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The objects displayed in Michigan's newest museum range from the ordinary, such as simple ashtrays and fishing lures, to the grotesque — a full-size replica of a lynching tree. But all are united by a common theme: They are steeped in racism so intense that it makes visitors cringe.
That's the idea behind the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which says it has amassed the nation's largest public collection of artifacts spanning the segregation era, from Reconstruction until the civil rights movement, and beyond.
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."The displays are startling. The n-word is prevalent throughout, and many items portray black men as lazy, violent or inarticulate. Black women are shown as kerchief-wearing mammies, sexually charged Jezebels or other stereotypes.
Some of the objects in the museum are a century old. Others were made as recently as this year.
One T-shirt on display reads: "Any White Guy 2012." Another shirt that says "Obama '08" is accompanied by a cartoon monkey holding a banana. A mouse pad shows robe-wearing Ku Klux Klan members chasing an Obama caricature above the words, "Run Obama Run."