Question of the Month
The Jim Crow Rock
Q: Recently I heard something about a very strange "Jim Crow Rock" off the shores of Scotland. Are you familiar with this legend and does it really represent a racist caricature?
--Melissa Divietri, Jackson, Michigan
A: It's not Loch Ness, but it's still a monstrosity.
The Jim Crow Museum is familiar and disturbed by this painted rock that dates back to the early 20th century. It rests off the shores just north of the small Scottish seaside town of Dunoon. The local population is somewhat divided over the idea that it is a monument to racism. From the looks of this thing, it is obvious to us that this object is consistent with the blackface caricatures that populate our museum.
The Jim Crow Rock is painted black, with the words "Jim Crow" in boldface white, and a red mouth. It's blackface in an obsidian form. For us at the Jim Crow Museum, the question remains -- why does this rock hold a special place among the local population? Or, are we as educators over-sensitive to the symbolism that Jim Crow artifacts represent?
The Jim Crow Rock has existed for over 100 years. At times it has been painted over and "vandalized," only to be regenerated by "well-meaning" preservationists. Pro-rock defenders cite the historical footnote that the U.S. Navy had a base in Dunoon for many years without any complaints (on record) from black sailors. Local historians also claim the rock refers to a local builders' yard once owned by a fellow named Jim Crow. However, the Jim Crow Museum has learned that controversy has enveloped this object for decades and that newspaper accounts debating the fate of the rock have routinely stirred passions among the local population.
The Jim Crow Museum has received reports via email of ongoing racial tensions in Dunoon. Originally, the painted rock may have served as a warning to minorities that they were not welcome and to "stay in their place." Recently, individuals who find the rock's symbolism offensive have been publicly discredited and ridiculed. In a newspaper poll taken earlier this year, voters in Dunoon favored keeping the rock intact instead of painting it over by a 5-to-1 margin. Today, we're left with the popular notion that the only people who have issues with the rock are "incomers" with no connection to Dunoon and that it's a harmless landmark of local tradition.
The Jim Crow Museum believes that in order to promote racial tolerance, people must understand the historical and contemporary expressions of intolerance. In Scotland, all myths aside, there are indeed monsters in the water and lessons to be learned.
December 2010 response by Ted Halm, Webmaster, Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia