Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Hi Dr. Pilgrim & Staff -
After watching the spotlight video and touring the museum, I felt compelled to write an email. I was deeply moved by the collection and exhibits.
I'm an adult student who recently returned to college to pursue an MPP/MSW. It's been a lifelong ambition to transition from banking to a career in research, non-profit and/or government. I completed a mid-term exam that required a brief discussion on the Jim Crow Museum. I was raised in a predominately white, rural county to a violent, racist father. I thought you might be interested to read my perspective. I have included it below. It's not great, but you'll understand the importance of your work to me and my children.
Thank you for offering this experience,
The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia was quite a moving experience. I am of Jewish decent and this reminded me of visiting the Museum of Jewish Heritage, often referred to as the NYC Holocaust Museum. Anti-Semitism and Black inequality are both representative of power, control and propaganda.
I am a registered Democrat and self-proclaimed liberal. I spent countless hours volunteering for President Obama's campaigns in 2008 & 2012. I've considered myself to be an educated, socially responsible American. Until watching Dr. Pilgrim's video introduction, I never understood the deeper meaning behind many items in the collection. (Pilgrim, Video Spotlight, Ferris.edu)
For example, I grew up in a rural county of New Jersey, bordering the Poconos. I would pass black lawn jockeys on my way to school without thinking anything of it. I was so naïve, I likely assumed they were honoring black heritage. Another example, is blackface. While I've always known it's offensive, I didn't know the context. (Pilgrim, Images as Propaganda, Ferris.edu)
Ida B. Wells said in her Autobiography, Crusade for Justice, "I found that in order to justify these horrible atrocities to the world, the Negro was branded as a race of rapists, who were especially after white women." (DuBois, Through Women's Eyes, 328)
I've come to realize that being a liberal doesn't qualify me as socially responsible. Un-learning the whitewashed version of history I was taught as a child while teaching my children inclusion and compassion is a good first step.
In my opinion, learning about American black history is critical for white Americans to appreciate and relate to blacks, as human beings, and often, heroes.
I was struck by Jon Onye Lockard's "critique of commercial mammy imagery". (Pilgrim, Using Art to Fight Racism, Ferris.edu) I grew up lower middle class. Boxed food, including Aunt Jemima, Mrs. Butterworth and Uncle Ben's, were staple products in our home. I recall my father once saying about fried chicken, "Why are you eating that n***** food? Eat a hamburger like a real American". The irony would be laughable if it wasn't so absurd.
In Through Women's Eyes by Ellen DuBois, she features a famous speech given by former slave and right's activist Sojourner Truth in 1851. She says, "I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too" and goes on to say, "I can't read, but I can hear". My father had a strong build with a personality to match. He lacked formal education, barely graduating from high school, but he taught himself construction and built a business.
I thought to myself, if she wasn't black or a woman, he might have appreciated her spirit. I would argue, the purpose of Dr. Pilgrim's collection, and the museum itself, is to educate academic students as well as students of life. While bigots like my father are resolved in their racism and hate, their children (including 40 year old students like myself) and future generations, like my young children, will appreciate and respect diversity.