Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Hi David -
I read the NYTimes pieces on your museum, and I wanted to share briefly stories of my own experiences with racist memorabilia in my family.
My mother is German, and married my father who was an American soldier stationed in Germany. I have 3 uncles in Germany who came of age in the 60s, and can be described as counter-culture hippies. When I was young, my uncle and his girlfriend bought a lawn jockey in the US and have it on display in their home in Germany to this day. Even as a young boy I understood that there were racial implications to this act - although I would not describe my relatives as overtly racist, something about it struck me as confusing and wrong, even if I was unable to express what exactly that was. When confronted, they would deny any racist intent, and would even make the leap that since they weren’t intending the act of ownership and display to be an expression of racism, it was therefore impossible for the act to be racist.
I’ve never been able to reconcile the fact that they have never expressed any racist sentiments, and I would never describe them as racists, save this one choice to own and display this object in their home. I suppose were I to travel back in time to my childhood, I would ask them, “would you display a actual hangman’s noose or shackles from the slave era? What is the symbolic difference in these objects?”
I have to say that it comes mostly from a lack of understanding and awareness on the part of white people when it comes to these objects and what they represent. Understanding the desire of white people to display these objects in their homes will help advance the dialogue of racial progress in the world. Thank you for your efforts.