Question of the Month
Q: Are there any objects that you still need to do the work of the museum?
--Allen Champion - Tulsa, Oklahoma
A: I would not say that the Museum "needs" additional objects to fulfill its mission of "using objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice." The Museum is home to more than 9,000 objects; therefore, it is not surprising that the Museum has, in each section, the requisite objects to teach the lessons that we want to teach.
But I must confess that there are some objects that I desire. During the several decades that I collected the "contemptible collectibles" that would become the foundation of the Jim Crow Museum, I saw many objects that I could not afford. One was an 1874 jigsaw puzzle, sold by the McLoughlin Company of New York. The puzzle was called Chopped Up Niggers. Although the black people depicted were caricatured, the worst part of the puzzle was the name, which had both an innocent meaning-in need of assembly-and a sinister meaning-the threat of violence. In any event, I have never seen the puzzle for sale for less than $3,000, and that seems too high to me. I recently saw the puzzle at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, Connecticut, where one of our traveling exhibits was on display. The staff at the Mark Twain House had supplemented our exhibition with objects from some of their patrons. When I saw the puzzle on display I turned to Craig Hotchkiss, the Museum's Education Program Manager, and said, "You might want to search and weigh me after I leave this room because I am sorely tempted to appropriate that puzzle."
The original location of the Jim Crow Museum was a 500-square-foot room. The small room afforded the Museum one tangible advantage: thousands of objects in a very small room reinforced the idea that the objects were pervasive, almost omnipresent, in the United States. When we designed the new facility we were concerned that the larger space would inadvertently diminish this impact of the Museum. One way to address this was to place hundreds of objects in certain sections. I am thinking here of the Mammy display. It is likely that most people did not have as many Mammy figurines on their mantels as there are on the shelves in our Mammy showcase, but, again, we wanted to show how common Mammy objects were. It is my goal to add even more Mammy objects to this showcase.
The October 2012 Question of the Month--researched and answered by Franklin Hughes--includes a discussion of the African Dodger game and similar games where whites threw balls at black people at carnivals and resorts. I would love (maybe that is the wrong word) to have one of the balls that were used in those carnival games.
One of the most talked about displays in the new Museum contains new objects and newly-created images. This is the showcase that has, among other objects, a tee-shirt that reads, "Any white guy in 2012." Obviously, we will always add objects to this section. It is an unfortunate truth that whenever there is a race-related story covered by the national media new three-dimensional objects are created. For example, when Don Imus, the radio host, referred to the Rutgers University women's basketball team as "Nappy Headed Hos," it did not take long for this odious phrase (with accompanying imagery) to show up on posters, tee-shirts, ashtrays, and other everyday objects. The Museum collects and displays these and similar objects to demonstrate that even though the United States continues to trudge toward racial maturity, vestiges of Jim Crow Era thinking remain.
I still spend most of my weekends and spare evenings "hunting" for objects that can be used to teach about prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, and subjugation. However, these days the objects that I collect relate to sexism. I am absolutely amazed and dismayed at the images that I have found on anti-suffrage postcards and trade cards; for example, women with nails in their tongues or their faces in cages. And, some of the 1980s advertisements that include women are almost as problematic. This symbolic violence parallels what I found many years ago when I first collected images of African Americans combatting Jim Crow. I have "discovered" that, as with African Americans, women were/are often caricatured as one-dimensional beings, and these caricatures both reflect and shape attitudes toward them. I am also collecting "gendered toys." Many of these toys are, at first glance, innocuous-think: Suzy Homemaker Oven. These toys will be useful to explore how gender expectations passed from one generation to another. My collecting fires have been re-ignited. If you have objects-toys, postcards, games, posters, figurines, souvenirs, pulp novels, sheet music, etc.-that might help us teach about sexism please consider donating them to the Museum.
Dr. David Pilgrim
Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia