Jim Crow Museum
1010 Campus Drive
Big Rapids, MI 49307
The Jim Crow era in the United States extended from the mid-1870s to the mid-1960s; consequently, most of the racist artifacts in the Ferris State University Jim Crow Museum were produced and distributed during that period.
The museum's holdings include Jim Crow memorabilia, for example, a "Whites Only" sign and "Colored" theater tickets. These artifacts are the types of objects that most observers associate with Jim Crow laws and etiquette. Jim Crow was more, however, than de jure and de facto segregation reflected by insulting public signs and theater tickets. It was the systemic degrading of black people. This degradation was expressed in everyday items, including, but not limited to ashtrays, postcards, Halloween masks, incense burners, fishing lures, sheet music, detergent boxes, wall clocks, jewelry, and toys. Black men were depicted as slow talking, childlike servants; wide-eyed, big lipped buffoons; or menacing, subhuman brutes. Black women were portrayed as fat, ugly, desexed pretend-mothers or near-white, sex crazed, self-loathing victims. Black children were portrayed as nameless, naked, miniature buffoons.
Millions of anti-black items were produced during the Jim Crow period, and these items served to justify prejudice and discrimination against African Americans. If black adults were childlike, for example, then they should not be allowed to vote, serve on juries, or become police officers or teachers. The anti-black items both shaped and reflected attitudes toward black people.
Racist items are still being produced, distributed, and sold. These newly created objects may be categorized this way: counterfeit antiques, honest reproductions not designed to deceive, updated racist objects, new black caricatures, and white supremacy items. The purpose of this essay is to explore these new expressions of racism and to explain their inclusion in the Jim Crow Museum.
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