Using Objects of Intolerance to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice: The Case of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

David Pilgrim, Curator, The Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia and Professor, Ferris State University

The Jim Crow Museum (JCM) began as the personal project of then-Sociology Professor David Pilgrim, and grew out of his collection of more than 3,000 segregation-related artifacts. After using items from the collection with the students in his Race Relations course and seeing the learning it produced, Professor Pilgrim sought to make his collection publically accessible by donating it to Ferris State University. Since its inception in 1996 and the creation of its website in 2000, the JCM has become a national and internationally recognized resource for students, teachers, researchers, scholars, human rights workers, the national media, and other seeking a deeper understanding of race relations. The museum enables visitors to understand that we “learn” racism through the common, ordinary objects that both shaped and reflected attitudes about race, race relations, and racism—and continue to do so today. By presenting these objects within a historical framework, the JCM promotes intelligent and open discussions. The museum’s dual commitment to academic rigor and social justice are reflected in its mission, “to use objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice.”

Professor Pilgrim, the museum’s founder and current curator, will discuss the museum’s mission and vision, and its strategy of using historical and contemporary race-based artifacts to teach about race, race relations, and racism. Participants are warned that this presentation contains images that some people find offensive.

Dr. Pilgrim is an applied sociologist with a doctorate from The Ohio State University and one of this country’s leading experts on issues relating to multiculturalism, diversity, and race relations. He has been interviewed by National Public Radio, Time magazine, the British Broadcasting Corporation, and dozens of newspapers. Dr. Pilgrim is best known as the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum – a 9,000 piece collection of racist artifacts located at Ferris State University. The museum uses objects of intolerance to teach tolerance. Dr. Pilgrim’s writings, many found on the museum’s web site (, are used by scholars, students, and civil rights workers to better understand historical and contemporary expressions of racism. The web site has been linked to hundreds of sites and has resulted in Dr. Pilgrim being invited to deliver public lectures at many institutions, including Colby College, Stanford University, Spring Arbor College, the University of Michigan, Smith College, and the University of North Carolina. In 2004, he produced with Clayton Rye the documentary Jim Crow’s Museum to explain his approach to battling racism. The film won several awards including Best Documentary at the 2004 Flint Film Festival and is shown nationally on affiliates of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). In 2012, Dr. Pilgrim received the Robert M. Duncan Alumni Citizenship Award (The Ohio State University), given to an alumnus who has “exemplified education for citizenship.”