Racist objects used to educate in Howell exhibit

Showing of items from Jim Crow Museum will coincide with King Day
Saturday, January 14, 2006
BY LISA CAROLIN
News Staff Reporters

HOWELL - The birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. will be observed in this Livingston County community with an exhibit of racist memorabilia.

The Livingston 2001 Diversity Council is bringing the exhibit "Hateful Things - Objects from the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University'' to the Howell Opera House beginning Sunday and running for a week. The holiday commemorating King's birthday will be observed Monday.

Vic Lopez, president of the Livingston 2001 Diversity Council, said the purpose of the exhibit is to educate people in the community. The Diversity Council purchased a Ku Klux Klan robe during an auction early last year and donated it to the museum in Big Rapids. The museum was set up to examine historical and contemporary expressions of racism and to promote racial understanding and healing.

"This exhibit shows hatred and examples of a time when blacks were treated like a lower class. There are pictures and sketches, and items of hatred. We don't recommend bringing children to see it who are younger than middle-school age,'' Lopez said.

Museum curator David Pilgrim, who helped to found the museum with his collection of memorabilia, said the items can teach people important lessons. The exhibit includes 39 items dating from the late 19th century.

Meanwhile, a subcommittee of the Diversity Council is moving ahead to put the group's goals into action starting with a "community conversation about diversity'' slated for mid-April.

Using $15,000 in donations - which organizers are seeking from local businesses, organizations and the city - the group will use the National Conference of Community and Justice to facilitate a day of events. Those are expected to include diversity awareness, leadership and community development training and are designed to help the group focus and create an action plan, according to Howell City Council Member Steve Manor, who also sits on the diversity group's board.

Manor said a tentative date of April 19 has been scheduled for the first event and that an additional three events would be scheduled throughout the year as the process moves ahead. The yearlong diversity push will be co-chaired by Pat Convery, president of the Howell Area Chamber of Commerce, and Lopez.

Council Member Dawn Cooper said she was pleased with the effort, since she has continued to experience incidents of racism in Howell following last January's protest of the sale of racist items at a local auction house. The auctioneer recently moved his business out of the city.

Cooper said she had heard at least three conversations where "I heard people say things that shouldn't be said. Just because we fought it back in January ... it isn't gone. It's still there.''

She added, "I don't believe, especially Howell, can turn its back on this issue.''

The museum in Big Rapids is named for the so-called Jim Crow laws passed to enforce racial segregation in the U.S. in the post-Reconstruction period starting in 1890. The laws regulated separate use of water fountains, public bath houses, and separate seating on public transportation. The name comes from the character in a minstrel song written by Thomas D. Rice.

Lisa Carolin can be reached at lcarolin@livingstoncommunitynews.com or at (810) 844-2010. Reach Casey Hans at (810) 844-2005 or at chans@livingstoncommunitynews.com.



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