Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice

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For many people, especially those who came of age after landmark civil rights legislation was passed, it is difficult to understand what it was like to be an African American living under Jim Crow segregation in the United States. Most young Americans have little or no knowledge about restrictive covenants, literacy tests, poll taxes, lynchings, and other oppressive features of the Jim Crow racial hierarchy. Even those who have some familiarity with the period may initially view racist segregation and injustices as mere relics of a distant, shameful past. A a proper understanding of race relations in this country must include a solid knowledge of Jim Crow—how it emerged, what it was like, how it ended, and its impact on the culture.

Understanding Jim Crow introduces readers to the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, a collection of more than ten thousand contemptible collectibles that are used to engage visitors in intense and intelligent discussions about race, race relations, and racism. The items are offensive. They were meant to be offensive. The items in the Jim Crow Museum served to dehumanize blacks and legitimized patterns of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation.
Fully illustrated, and with context provided by the museum’s founder and director David Pilgrim, Understanding Jim Crow is both a grisly tour through America’s past and an auspicious starting point for racial understanding and healing.
Praise for Understanding Jim Crow:
"One of the most important contributions to the study of American history that I have ever experienced."
— Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African American Research
"For decades the author has been on a Pilgrimage to bring out from our dank closets the racial skeletons of our past. His is on a crucial mission, because he forces us to realize that race relations grew worse in the first several decades of the twentieth century-something many Americans never knew or now want to suppress. This book allows us to see, even feel the racism of just a generation or two ago-and Pilgrim shows that elements of it continue, even today. See it! Read it! Feel it! Then help us all transcend it!"
— James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me
"David Pilgrim makes a vital contribution to help us understand the grotesque depths of the psychological and cultural war of anti-black racism throughout the Jim Crow era. In our quest to build powerful multiracial grassroots movements for collective liberation, Pilgrim's book is a tool to help decolonize our minds, attack anti-Black racism in all of its forms, and create a multiracial democracy with economic justice for all."
— Chris Crass, author of Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy