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Founder of Jim Crow Museum Visits JMC

Posted Feb. 14, 2013

By Trevor Ivan

David Pilgrim, Ph.D., the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan, visited Kent State University on February 11 and 12 to engage students in a discussion about the effects of racist images embedded in popular culture throughout history. The museum, which contains the largest public collection of Segregation-era artifacts, uses objects of racism to teach tolerance and promote social justice.

Pilgrim, who is also the vice president for diversity and inclusion at Ferris State, is the second speaker in JMC’s new Diversity Speaker Series. He delivered a public presentation in the Kiva, co-sponsored by JMC, and also met with instructor John Kerezy’s Newswriting class. During both discussions, Pilgrim showed the audience images that pandered to stereotypes of minorities or women and asked students to consider the ramifications of their prevalence in society.

The presentation ranged from early 20th century postcards that contained illustrations depicting a woman’s mouth being sewn shut as an anti-suffrage message to examining Time Magazine’s intentional darkening of O. J. Simpson’s mug shot on its front cover.

In each instance, Pilgrim asked students to consider the potential motivations for why the images were created and constructed the way they were. He noted that when major corporations use such imagery and messaging in their communications, it can shape society’s discussion about perceptions of entire groups of people.

Because of an image’s power, Pilgrim urged students to exercise responsibility by speaking up in their future communication careers when they perceive a message is unfair, inaccurate or stereotypical.

“You don’t have to have the answers,” Pilgrim said. “You need to be the one to raise your hand and speak up when you think something is wrong. I want people to be passionate about the pursuit of answers of how we portray others.”

JMC Director Thor Wasbotten echoed these sentiments before Pilgrim’s discussion with the Newswriting class by reminding students that what they choose to include or exclude from the stories they write or the campaigns they produce will affect how the public perceives their sources and entire groups of people.

JMC inaugurated the Diversity Speaker Series during the fall 2012 semester, when Dwayne Bray, senior coordinating producer for ESPN, visited the School in November as the first speaker in the series. Bray spoke about the network’s efforts to balance its journalistic duties and its business relationships with the top sports leagues and conferences whose games it broadcasts.

Wasbotten said the purpose of the series is to “expose our students to successful minorities who can serve as role models in the professions they are studying.”

Photo credit: Melinda Yoho
Caption: KSU and JMC officials greet Dr. David Pilgrim; from left, Della Marshall, Associate Director of the Center for Student Involvement; Dr. Pilgrim; Associate Lecturer Traci Williams and Professor Gary Hanson.