David Pilgrim Offers “Jim Crow” Lecture on History of Racism

Ferris State University faculty member Dr. David Pilgrim visited the Frostburg campus on Monday, April 11 and addressed members of the community in the Alice R. Manicur Assembly Hall of the Lane University Center on both his museum – the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia – as well as both historical and contemporary forms of racism and stereotypes in American society.

Brought to the university by Dr. Amy Branam Armiento, chair of the English Department and professor of African American studies, Dr. Pilgrim, who originally hails from Mobile, Alabama, discussed his museum’s mission of collecting everyday objects that reflect both the tropes and stereotypes that have historically been imposed upon African Americans.

The museum’s collection includes culinary tools, postcards, games, signs, and other common forms of memorabilia. Pilgrim emphasized the pervasiveness of Jim Crow, noting: “It wasn’t just the laws… it was every social institution. Every way of behavior.”

Pilgrim noted several common tropes and stereotypes, discussing at length the “Mammy” figure popular both in plantation lore and in modern cinema (see Tyler Perry’s Madea). These figures were exploited commercially, Pilgrim states, noting past marketing of both Aunt Jemima and Rice Krispie Treats.

Modern political commentary was part of the dialogue: Pilgrim specifically discussed the many characterizations of President Barack Obama as a member of disrespected communities. He also alluded to similar demonization of current presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, noting images and criticisms of her, specifically her ambition, related to her gender.

Frostburg State University senior James Mattocks attended the event and brought his own original artwork, in hopes of making a contribution to the museum. Mattocks, who has a seven-piece collection focusing on stereotypes and subliminal messages in Disney animated films, showcased a painting of the much-criticized crows featured in Dumbo (1941).

James Mattocks displays one part of a seven-piece artistic criticism of tropes in media, specifically children's films (TBL/Nick DeMichele).
James Mattocks displays one part of a seven-piece artistic criticism of tropes in media, specifically children’s films (TBL/Nick DeMichele).

Pilgrim’s presentation ended with a moving monologue about the interconnectivity of all mankind. “Every man is my brother,” Pilgrim emphasized. The lecture was followed a question and answer period as well as a book signing.

Dr. Amy Armiento celebrated the success of the event, stating: “I am so pleased with the support that this event received from numerous offices and academic programs on this campus, as well as Allegany College of Maryland and Potomac State College.  We had over 200 people turn out to hear this important lecture on the perseverance of everyday racist objects in our culture.  If we do not educate ourselves, we are doomed to repeat our past rather than overcome it.”

To find out more about African American Studies at FSU, email Dr. Armiento at abranam@frostburg.edu.

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