David Pilgrim, founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum, talks with Aileen Moreton-Robinson, a professor of indigenous students at Queensland University of Technology in Australia, during a tour of the museum. (Photo/Ferris State University Photographic Services)
Ferris State University’s Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia “offers the best practice model” for academics from Australia aspiring to build a museum that promotes social consciousness about indigenous oppression.
The group from Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Queensland and the University of Tasmania in Birnie, Tasmania, toured the museum June 8 as part of an excursion to the United States and Canada.
“We believe the Jim Crow Museum offers the best practice model for the teaching and display of racialized objects of affective possession such as Aboriginalia,” said Aileen Moreton-Robinson, professor of indigenous studies at QUT.
The trip, endorsed by QUT and the University of Tasmania, allowed the group to collect research at museums that foster racial understanding. The group also made several presentations during its visit, including at the National Congress of American Indian Research Policy Center in Washington D.C.
Hoping to establish a museum that features racialized objects produced by non-indigenous people in Canberra, Australia’s capital, Moreton-Robinson decided to include a visit to Big Rapids after learning about the Jim Crow Museum online.
“We believe (David) Pilgrim (founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum) has made a major contribution to developing a new field of racialized material culture studies, and our visit is an example of the global reach of his important work,” said Moreton-Robinson, founding president of the Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association.
Moreton-Robinson and UT associate professor Maggie Walters were awarded a research grant from the Australian Research Council to analyze racial memorabilia and the oppression of indigenous people there.
Adam Robinson, an indigenous studies research network project manager, said that the Jim Crow Museum showed similarities between the oppression of African Americans in the United States and that of indigenous people in Australia.
“It takes you on a rollercoaster ride of mixed emotions,” Robinson said. “Both are cultures of oppression.”
The new $1.3 million, 3,300-square-foot museum displays more than 9,000 artifacts,
including a lynching tree, caricatures of the Jim Crow era, objects that symbolize
African American achievement and the Civil Rights Movement, didactic panels for storytelling
and a space for dialogue.
Nearly 1,800 people have visited the museum since its April 26 grand opening in the Ferris Library for Information, Technology and Education (FLITE).
Understanding how the groups’ work to establish a museum of racist memorabilia that promotes dialogue parallels his own, Pilgrim said he felt a genuine connection with the Australian scholars.
“The lessons of the museum are relevant to every society,” said Pilgrim, also Ferris’ vice president for Diversity and Inclusion. “After all, every society has politically and socially dominant groups that have oppressed other groups.”
Moreton-Robinson said that the visit to the Jim Crow Museum inspired her group to continue its pursuit of making a museum of Aboriginalia in their nation’s capital a reality.
“When we return to Australia, we will be using the example set by Dr. David Pilgrim and his vision to establish such an important context and place for the study of racialization,” she said. “We are indebted to the magnitude of his intellectual vision and commitment to social justice.”
The Jim Crow Museum is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday. Admission is free. To schedule a group tour, call (231) 591-5873.