I started collecting racist objects when I was a teenager and the stuff was everywhere. At a certain point I ended up with thousands of pieces. I didn't know what I would do with it, I just thought a lot about what it meant to be a person of color living during jim crow.
I had no intention of creating a museum, but the collection kept growing, so in the 1990s I gave my collection to the university.
I took 15 years, but in 2012 we opened this museum, I have lots of respect for museums that celebrate african-american history, that celebrate african-american accomplishment, but that's not what this facility was.
I wanted to create an actual racism facility to have people focused on this specific topic, in terms of our history. So if you just have a society with millions of postcards like this does that reinforce certain ideas about black people and white people? Some of the best discussions we have in the museum are about the word nigger which sounds kind of weird by the way because i'm a sociologist and we don't believe words have any inherent meaning they're just sound science that we give but we do believe that people- once the meanings are given that they are shared I mean no piece is inherently racist it's a racist society which will create racist objects and will racialise other objects.
That's why the watermelon is- has a race, so there's nothing inherent about a watermelon that makes it racist but you know darn well that it's been racialized someone looking at ancho mama objects or other " mammy" images they don't think of that as offensive.
They think of good time spent with the families it's very nostalgic. Someone else looking at those same pieces. They see the vestiges of slavery and segregation so often we're not deciding that something is racist, but what we are doing are collecting pieces that help us talk about racism we have lots of friends at the museum, and we receive hundreds of pieces a year.
The first director of museum, he said to me one day: " hey, there's a couple of guys I want you to meet." here we go, here's some jim crow related materials. These are the dolls and some of them are older, some are newer these are like 1950s.
Male and female. Yeah. Well those are really interesting our group of friends were all collecting this because we realized what it said about our society and what it said about where we were in the past and where maybe we still were.
When we met david pilgrim, in the whole jim crow museum and all of that, it was like- finally there's a place where we can put- the sense of relief that we could let go of these objects so other people could learn from it.
We have some understanding of bigotry, we have some understanding of being the outsider or not being accepted or being told that we are not welcomed we can't be accepted you you have no place here.
I think because we've experienced that in our own lives because we're gay there's a little transference there to trying to help understand the even bigger question of bigotry and then likewise racism wow, this is really racist.
This is an ashtray where the black washer woman she has her one breast stuck in the wringer, and so she's hollering my god. That's also sexist I think that jim crow would love that.
This is the jim crow. This is on multiple levels. This is a wonderful piece once we finally discovered the jim crow museum it give us more impetus to go out and find, collect, save.
They now have at least 500 things from us. By collecting those things we get a broader picture of how racism continued all the way up into the 60s and 70s and still continues i've seen things about president obama that were horrible I think people who go to the jim crow museum are often surprised when they see something from 2015 as racist as many of the things from a hundred years ago, and we've had friends who are a complete mess after they left because suddenly they've been confronted with the truth for many years when I traveled I would say that the united states despite its history of enslavement and jim crow that we are today more democratic and more egalitarian than we've ever been and I stopped saying that about two years ago i'm not suggesting that we are back in the jim crow period, don't get it twisted it's not like that but what I am saying is I hear and see a level of racist rhetoric that is reminiscent of when I was growing up in alabama under governor george wallace people say they don't want to talk about race, but they're doing it all the time but they're not talking about it in places where their ideas can be challenged.
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