Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
Jim Crow's dead but the legacy lives on
Friday, March 04, 2005
African American History Month just came to an end. It's the one month out of the year when Americans take the time to remember the late Rev. Martin Luther King, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks and all the rest of the people who made it socially acceptable for me, and other non-white individuals, to be sitting where I am today. For that I am thankful.
But my favorite part of the month, and it never fails to happen, is when some person says, "Slavery is over. Just forget about it. Get over it."
Sure, slavery is over and folks can get over it, but if you don't learn from history, you're doomed to make the same mistakes.
Not to say the integration of blacks into American society can ever be reversed, but it is valuable for people to remember how we got to that place in American history.
Simply put, hate is how that dark time in U.S. history came about and remembering the struggle and the journey out of that period helps prevent the perpetuation of that hate.
Historically, racial hate has been marketed to Americans through various venues, and it continues today. During the Christmas season last year, I came face to face with one of the venues in Jim Crow caricatures.
I was shopping in a local antique store and found a large collection of what's known as "Jim Crow Memorabilia." The memorabilia included dolls, ephemera such as Valentine's cards, household items like salt-and-pepper shakers, teapots and cups that featured negative images of black people.
According to John Thorp, director of the Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum of Racist Imagery in Michigan, these things were used to not only perpetuate racial hate but encourage white superiority.
"It certainly supports the continuation of hatred. It contributes to the (negative) racial attitudes and it's a reflection of the racial attitude," he said. "The first thing, before you get the hatred, you've got the white racial superiority. It was a situation where these things were used to build up white self-esteem. That they were better than black people and undoubtedly racial hatred evolved."
Thorp has seen these images on everyday household items in his household when growing up.
"When you had a cookie jar, it was a 'Mammy' cookie jar. It was just an ordinary thing. No one thought about it," he said. "It was taken for granted. In the late '40s, early '50s, white people didn't even think about the fact they were consuming these things. '
For me, it was different. I've heard about items like these in college, but I've never touched them.
I've never looked into an a little old white lady's eyes as she stood next to me holding one of the "Picaninny" dolls and saying, "Oh, how adorable."
"Yes, look at the cute little picaninny," I thought. But, of course, it's not proper to say that, so I just nodded and smiled.
She amused me and offended me at the same time.
So let's get into definitions. Items used to perpetuate hate of the black race include the "picaninny" caricature.
According to the museum's Web site, the picaninny was meant to represent black children. These caricatures had bulging eyes, unkempt hair, red lips and wide mouths. Picaninnies, the site adds, were buffoons seen eating large pieces of watermelon and fried chicken and running from alligators.
Another common caricature is the "Mammy." She's often featured as a fat, dark-skinned black woman who loved living in the master's house and taking care of his children.
That image is unlikely, Thorp said.
Perpetuation of racial hatred always begins and ends with children. Is it in yours?
Contact Angelica Morrison at (716) 439-9222, Ext. 6251, or [email protected].
Copyright @ 2005 Greater Niagara Newspapers.