Commentary: Why a Museum Highlights a Lynching Tree

A new museum in Michigan reminds visitors of the awful history of racism in the United States. Here’s why you should visit.

Posted: 04/20/2012 12:46 PM EDT

If you're a Black American reading this, how might it make you feel to stand face to trunk with a full-sized replica of a tree once used to lynch African-Americans? Would you be upset? Would it make you sick to your stomach? Would you possibly cry?

We can all agree that it would probably not make anyone, regardless of their race, feel very good to be standing there and contemplating the widespread racist hangings that took place in the United States only decades ago.

But here's something we might not all agree on: What if we told you that feeling all that hate and sadness might be a good thing?

The purveyors of a new museum in Michigan seem to agree with us. At the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University, visitors can peruse everything from the lynching tree to racist ads depicting Black men as shiftless and violent and Black women as overweight mammies. It's ugly stuff that makes some visitors shudder, but that's what the founder wants.

CBS News reported:

The museum in a gleaming new exhibit hall at Ferris State University "is all about teaching, not a shrine to racism," said David Pilgrim, the founder and curator who started building the collection as a teenager. Pilgrim, who is black, makes no apologies for the provocative exhibits. The goal of the $1.3 million gallery, he explained, is "to get people to think deeply."

When the Smithsonian's upcoming National Museum of African-American History and Culture  announced it would be including things such as Klan robes in its collection, there was a gasping similar to the gasps surely heard in this Michigan museum.

As we told you then, it's important for Black people to not turn away from the ugliness in our history: “Sad as it is, the Klan, and the violence Klan members wrought across America, is inextricably linked to African-American life nowadays. To try to forget that would be to try to forget an important puzzle piece in Black culture.”

Even beyond Blacks not forgetting, the racist memorabilia museum reminds whites and others of the horrors wrought in the name of racial separation. If even one potential racist looks at the violence and brutality of the racial artifacts and is sickened by their intrinsic hatred, the museum will have been a success.


The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

 

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(Photo:  AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

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