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Exhibit displays “Hateful Things”

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Colin Cosgrove ('20) looks at pieces from the

Colin Cosgrove ('20) looks at pieces from the "Hateful Things" exhibit.

Natalie Nelson (‘20) | Chips

Natalie Nelson (‘20) | Chips

Colin Cosgrove ('20) looks at pieces from the "Hateful Things" exhibit.

Natalie Nelson, Staff Writer

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Luther is hosting a traveling exhibit from the Jim Crow Museum titled “Hateful Things” in the second  floor of the Center for Faith and Life (CFL) from Feb. 12 to March 2. The exhibit  displays racist objects, images, and advertisements. The opening of the exhibit was accompanied by a guest lecture on racism by the founder of the Jim Crow Museum David Pilgrim on Sunday, Feb. 18 in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall (CRH).

The exhibit is usually located at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. Pilgrim described the collection as “Anti-black Memorabilia,” including Mammy candles, Nellie fishing lures, Sambo masks, and Golliwog marbles as well as tickets, brochures, photos, and other media promoting racist ideas. According to Pilgrim, the goal of the museum is to engage people in open and honest discussions about racism.

“If you’re going to deal with racism, you have to really look at it, and you have to bring it out into the open,” Pilgrim said in his lecture. “In the U.S., we like happy history. History the you can celebrate: balloons and people marching. […] However, not all of our history has been good. I’m doing this because I want people to have a deeper understanding of what racial relations were like in the period between the 1870s and the 1960s.”

For Pilgrim, avoiding the topic of racism was not an acceptable solution because race is already  discussed in the context of daily life.

“The reality is people talk about race every day,” Pilgrim said. “They talk about it in horrors, they talk about it in their offices, they talk about it at home, they talk about it at their kitchen tables, they talk about race everywhere, but they don’t talk about it in places where their ideas can be challenged.”

Director of the Diversity Center Wintlett Taylor-Browne said the decision to bring Pilgrim to Luther began when International Student Coordinator in the Diversity Center Amy Webber noticed a similar event in her alumni magazine from Hope College. Taylor-Browne passed the idea to Gallery Coordinator David Kamm, who organized the exhibit and lecture during Black History Month.

“We could have had this exhibit any time of the year, but since it’s Black History Month it’s important to respect and honor that,” Taylor-Browne said. “Beyond black history, it’s American history, not black or white, and it’s important. When you think about the political climate that we are operating in and some of the negative social consequences of those behaviors, maybe we need something to shock us. That is my hope: that it will shock us into recognizing that we talk about one nation.”

Natalie Nelson (‘20) | Chips
Founder of the Jim Crow Museum David Pilgrim delivers lecture about racism in the Center for Faith and Life Recital Hall.

The effort to bring the exhibit and lecture to Luther and to fund them was a collaborative project between the CFL, the Diversity Center, the Center for Ethics and Public Engagement, and the Dean’s Office, as well as the Africana studies, English, and religion department. Kamm said that a collaborative project of this size was unusual, and that they put in careful effort to publicize why ‘hateful things’ were being displayed on Luther’s campus.

“All of the objects are accompanied by didactic labels which give context for each, and I hope that people will not just look, but will spend a little bit of time to read,” Kamm said. “Then they will understand what this work is doing at Luther College, and why we brought it here, and what effect, or role, it has played on even society today.”

According to Kamm, the title “Hateful Things” was not an exaggeration and the exhibit shed light on objects that seem playful and innocent on the surface, but when combined with their historical context, perpetuate negative stereotypes and impressions.

“I’m hoping the show will help us reconsider both individually and as a community what our role can be in fighting [racism] or, at the very least, not perpetuating it,” Kamm said.

Professor of Africana Studies and English Novian Whitsitt appreciated that the exhibit items conveyed the effect they had in American History.

“I think his collection did a wonderful job of showing you the literal physical weight and an abundance of these historical pieces that help us get a better sense of the journey of race in America,” Whitsitt said. “Anytime we get a better understanding of what that journey is, the more useful our understanding of the present moment in which we find ourselves becomes.”

Whitsitt said he hopes that more students will visit the exhibit and that they will talk to their own communities of friends and family about what they see.

“I’m sure that, for some [students], some of those stories are completely new,” Whitsitt said. “Maybe they’ve never even known that those stories and that that sort of material history even existed, so hopefully they’re having conversations about what they saw and what they heard with one another. That’s the point: to generate conversation.”

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