David Pilgrim was 12 years old when he bought his first racist object at a flea market: a saltshaker in the shape of a mammy. As a young black boy growing up in Mobile, Alabama, he’d seen similar knick-knacks in the homes of friends and neighbors, and he instinctively hated them. As soon as he handed over his money, he threw his purchase to the ground and shattered it into pieces.
Pilgrim’s story brings to mind the young biblical Abraham, smashing idols in his father’s shop. But that mammy was the only racist icon Pilgrim ever destroyed. Today he owns thousands of them: cereal boxes, statuettes, whites-only signs, and postcards of black men being whipped and hung. The public will soon be able to see his entire collection and more at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which opens April 26 at Ferris University in Michigan where Pilgrim spent years as a sociology professor.
The museum is divided into sections, each reflecting a different distorted vision of black people in America. One features Uncle Toms: cheerful, servile black men like Uncle Ben or the chef on the Cream of Wheat box. Another showcases “brutes”: muscular ogres who lurk in dark alleys and ravish white women. Most of the objects predate civil rights, but there’s a section devoted to modern racism: It includes dozens of caricatures of President Barack Obama as a monkey, a terrorist, and a watermelon-eating “coon.”
Read more. [Images: Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia]