Question of the Month
Are There Similar Museums in the U.S.?
Q: Are there similar museums in the United States?
-- Stacey Williams, Marathon Key, Florida
A: The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris University State is the largest publicly accessible collection of racist material in the United States. The museum has over 4,000 everyday objects that may be conceptualized into four broad categories: segregation memorabilia, for example, "No Negroes Allowed" signs; White supremacy artifacts, including KKK paraphernalia; Civil Rights Movement objects, for example, literature distributed at the 1963 March on Washington; and, caricatured, anti-Black objects, postcards, ashtrays, games and other everyday objects that defame African Americans.
Many of the public museums in the United States have racist artifacts in their holdings; however, rarely are these artifacts publicly displayed. The reluctance to display the objects results, in part, from a practical concern: public museums do not want to offend potential donors. Moreover, public museum staff are rarely trained to handle racist-themed material, especially non-slavery era objects. It is uncommon to find a large public museum in the United States that does not have Klan robes, segregation signs, and caricatured everyday objects stored in its basement.
The Black Holocaust Museum in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, contains exhibits that depict slavery, lynchings, and caricatured images of Blacks in the media. Its mission and approach are similar to those of the Jim Crow Museum, though the Black Holocaust Museum has a greater stress on violence. The Jim Crow Museum focuses on everyday objects as propaganda.
There are many Americans who collect racist memorabilia, and some publicly display their collections -- in temporary exhibitions. James P. Hicks, a locksmith at the University of Iowa, has amassed over 1,000 pieces of "Black Memorabilia," many with derogatory depictions of Africans and their American descendants. At a public exhibit of his collection, Hicks said, "Racism was indoctrinated into our culture. Through this exhibit, others can learn more of Black history and come to appreciate the progress and achievements of African Americans. Perhaps, we can look at our own misperceptions."
Therbia Parker and Marva Parker, a married couple in Suffolk, Virginia, recently founded Listen to the Drumbeat Productions -- an enterprise dedicated to teaching African-American cultural history through black memorabilia. Oprah Winfrey, Bill Cosby, Whoopi Goldberg, Spike Lee, and Anita Pointer (lead singer of the singing group, the Pointer Sisters), all collect Black Memorabilia, including derogatory objects. Lee used some of his objects in his movie Bamboozled.
Khalid el-Hakim (formerly Stan Bell), a middle school social studies teacher in Detroit, Michigan, has displayed his collection of Black memorabilia at universities, public schools, private galleries, and festivals. El-Hakim, a Ferris State University graduate, is a community activist who uses his collection to teach about the struggles and accomplishments of African Americans.
Click here for more information on collectors of Black memorabilia, including racist memorabilia.
June 2005 response by David Pilgrim, Curator, Jim Crow Museum