Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Coon Chicken Inn was a small restaurant chain in the American West from the late 1920s through the 1950s. The restaurants were known for their entrances, which featured the head of a winking, grinning, grotesquely caricatured black man wearing a porter's cap. The words "Coon Chicken Inn" were written on teeth framed by oversized red lips. Visitors entered through a doorway in the middle of the black man's mouth. The menu included southern fried "Coon Chicken" sandwiches and chicken pie, as well as hamburgers, seafood, chili, and assorted sandwiches. Black people (especially ones with very dark skin) were employed as waiters, waitresses, and cooks.
Racism In The Kitchen
During the Jim Crow period a typical American kitchen had many products with images that portrayed black people in negative ways; these included packaging for cereal, syrup, pancake mix, and detergent; salt and pepper shakers; string holders; cookbooks; hand towels; placemats; grocery list reminders; and, wall hangings. Any object found in a kitchen could be-and often was-transformed into anti-black propaganda.
Racism On The Lawn
The lawn jockey is a decorative yard ornament that caricatures black people and promotes the idea of their servitude. Typically a cast replica about half-scale, it depicts a black man dressed in jockey's clothing carrying a lantern or a metal ring suitable for hitching a horse. The black lawn jockeys often have exaggerated features, such as bulging eyes, large red lips, a flat nose and curly hair. The flesh of the figure is usually a glossy black color.
Traditionally, two styles of lawn jockey have been produced: the stocky, hunched "Jocko" and the taller, thinner "Cavalier Spirit." Both styles were still manufactured in 2012. Many Americans, especially African Americans, feel that lawn jockeys are racially offensive. It is common for homeowners to repaint the figure's skin with pink or white paint to avoid charges of being racially insensitive.
Caricaturing Black People
In the United States, all racial groups have been caricatured, but none as often or in as many ways as black Americans. Black people have been portrayed in popular culture as pitiable exotics, cannibalistic savages, hypersexual deviants, childlike buffoons, obedient servants, self-loathing victims, and menaces to society.
These anti-black depictions routinely took form in material objects, such as ashtrays, drinking glasses, banks, games, fishing lures, detergent boxes, and other everyday items. This case holds objects that illustrate some of the major anti-black caricatures.
The Savage caricature showed Africans as animalistic, crazed, or comical cannibals, often with bones in their oversized lips. Drawn from the pseudo-scientific early anthropological theories of the late 1800s, the Savage represented Africans as primitives who were less evolved than their supposedly superior European counterparts.
From slavery through the Jim Crow period, the mammy caricature served the political, social, and economic interests of mainstream white America. During slavery, the mammy caricature presented the idea that black people-in this case, black women-were content, and even happy, as slaves. Her wide grin, hearty laugher, and loyal servitude were offered as evidence of the supposed humanity of the institution of slavery.
The mammy caricature romanticized the realities of slave and servant life and obscured the unequal foundation of the master-servant power structure. Portrayed as an obese, coarse, maternal figure, the mammy had great love for her white "family," but often treated her own family with disdain. Although she had children, sometimes many, she was, by mainstream standards, sexually unappealing. She "belonged" to the white family, though it was rarely stated. She was a faithful worker. She had no black friends; the white family was her entire world.
More information on the Mammy Caricature
Between 1928 and 1950, America's premier animators-Walt Disney Corporation, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Merrie Melodies, Looney Tunes, and R.K.O. Radio Pictures-produced many cartoons that ridiculed the appearance, behavior, and intelligence of African Americans and other racial and ethnic minorities.
Charbonnet Doll Collection
From its inception, the Jim Crow Museum had dolls, mostly Mammy, Tom, and Pickaninny versions. In 2010, Marc Charbonnet, a prominent interior designer in New York, donated a collection of dolls to the Museum, including some that defame African Americans and some that exalt them and celebrate African American culture.
Games And Toys
Games are effective vehicles for spreading racial stereotypes and prejudice. All of the common caricatures of black people were represented in games. Players, often children, received messages through a game's graphics and text that black people were, for example, lazy or deviant and deserved to be mocked or hurt.
In 2011, approximately one-fourth of the objects in the Jim Crow Museum were produced in other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, England, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, and Taiwan.
The word nigger is a shorthand way of saying that black people possessed the moral, intellectual, social, and physical characteristics of the Coon, Brute, Tom, Mammy, and other racial caricatures. Although considered by many people to be a hateful slur, the word is used in different ways and contexts to connote different meanings.
More information on the N-Word
Racism As Commodity
All of the objects in the Jim Crow Museum have market values. In 2011, there were more than 50,000 collectors of "Black Americana," a category that includes racist artifacts. Generally, the more racist an object is, the higher the price it commands.
In the 1880s, Chris Rutt, who had recently developed the idea of a self-rising pancake batter, attended a minstrel show that included a skit with a southern mammy character named Aunt Jemima. Rutt and his partner, Charles Underwood, decided that the mammy, dressed in an apron and bandanna, would help distinguish and sell their pancake mix. When the R.T. Davis Mill Company purchased Rutt and Underwood's company, they employed a real person to portray Aunt Jemima in their marketing scheme. Nancy Green, born a slave in Kentucky in 1834, became the first "real" Aunt Jemima. She impersonated Aunt Jemima until her death in 1923.
At the 1893 World's Exposition in Chicago, Green, as Aunt Jemima, sang songs, cooked pancakes, and told romanticized stories about the Old South as a happy place for black and white people. Afterwards, her image was plastered on billboards nationwide, with the caption, "I'se in town, honey." In her role as Aunt Jemima, Green made appearances at countless country fairs, flea markets, food shows, and local grocery stores. By the turn of the century, Aunt Jemima, along with the Armour meat chef, were the two commercial symbols most trusted by American housewives.
A short video showing the marketing of Aunt Jemima and its impact on some peoples view of her today. Many consider Aunt Jemima as a kind, happy motherly figure who made great pancakes. Aunt Jemima, sang songs, cooked pancakes, and told romanticized stories about the Old South as a happy place for black and white people. But examine how these interpretations came to be and whether they were based on reality or in marketing. How many times does it take to call Aunt Jemima "Happy" before everyone believes it? And does just saying she is "Happy" make it so? Audio excerpts from the "Aunt Jemima Variety Show"