How about a familiar and commonly butchered quote for you to chew on with your midday snack?
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
~ George Santayana, The Life of Reason
I would like to take this a step further. Those who do not COMPREHEND the past are condemned to repeat it… and make it worse. We may remember the things we are taught in history class, but parroting back what our teachers have told us with a simple “let’s not do that again” is not fully learning from our past. We need to know how to take that event in history and recognize its application to modern, perhaps only deceptively similar situations. Plus, a history teacher can only cover so much material from our vast history in one semester or school year. In order to learn from others’ mistakes before making them ourselves, history and the understanding of it must be sought out under one’s own steam, as it were.
What better place to start than a museum? Museums usually have shorter segments of reading than textbooks and pretty pictures or displays to illustrate for our short attention spans and immense visual consumption.
Earlier this week, I took a day trip up to Big Rapids, Michigan to visit the JIM CROW MUSEUM OF RACIST MEMORABILIA– 1010 Campus Dr., Big Rapids, MI 49307.
No, I would not consider myself racist and the museum is not racist, either. My reasons for visiting were curiosity and the drive to learn, understand, and maybe even help prevent future mistakes… or just get frustrated on how my theories of prevention are not being regarded in the slightest by society.
For the record, the museum curator is not Jim Crow, so don’t barge in claiming to be a personal friend. In the early 1800s, it was a popular form of entertainment for entertainers (of both races, oddly enough, but more often white entertainers) to perform in “black face” (painting the face black and the lips either left unpainted or painted red). The most popular entertainer of this nature was Thomas Dartmouth Rice and his character named Jim Crow. Jim Crow was a buffoon, spoke in an exaggerated African American vernacular, and sang songs mocking the African American population. This is the origin of what later became known as the Jim Crow Laws, the laws promoting the segregation of the African American population.
The museum was created to promote tolerance by spelling out the intolerance of the past; their definition of tolerance, according to museum, encompasses all aspects including what many would classify as “acceptance.” This museum covers the subjects of slavery, lynching, mockery, segregation, and everything in between of African Americans from the first group kidnapped for the purpose of slavery in the 1600s to modern day paraphernalia.
Whatever you stance, passive or aggressive, on this issue, this museum is good for opening your mind and prodding it a bit. If you take the time to mull over what this museum is offering, you will leave with, if not sympathy, a firmer grasp of what you truly believe on the issue.
This blog is not intended to be my personal soapbox, so I will not expound on my thoughts regarding the issue suffice to say that I will always be amazed at the blatant narrow-mindedness of which humans are capable.
Sorry, pictures weren’t allowed in the museum, so you’ll have to go yourself to see it.
This museum is definitely worth a visit, if you are within driving distance of Big Rapids. Upon entering the museum, I was greeted by a volunteer who offered help in case I had any questions at the end of the self-guided tour. The displays are maintained, the readings informative, and I was through it in a little under an hour (that was reading everything and having no one with me to stop and discuss things with). The potentially pirated pictures floating around the internet are not a worthy replacement for the real museum in the slightest.
Did I mention that the museum is also FREE?
… got your attention now, haven’t I?
The only downside, and it’s not really that big of a problem, is the location. It is in the lower lever of the Ferris State University library (otherwise known as the FLITE building), which makes locating the museum and parking a bit inconvenient. However, if you follow my instructions below, you should have very little trouble.
After taking Exit 139 off of US 131 to get to Big Rapids, you will head west on Perry Ave./15 Mile/Business 131 (how many names does a road need?!). The road ends at a big building with “FERRIS STATE UNIVERSITY” in big, bold letters on the outside. THAT is the FLITE building and, therefore, your objective. Go straight through that traffic light and turn right on the small road directly in front of the building, Campus Dr. (the light is at South State, do NOT turn there). Once on Campus Dr., you will see parking lots to your right. Lot 27 has meters to park at (the museum is free, but alas, parking is not). Parking at these meters is 25 cents for half an hour. I read that you can also go to campus security and get a parking pass, but I don’t know where that is and have no idea how much that would cost.
Once you park and get in the library, you are going to want to find the lower level. That is where the museum is. I went in the northwest door facing Campus Dr. (it should be the first door you come to from lot 27), walked straight ahead through the study/lounge area, then turned left to go into the main room of the library. The elevators and stairs to the lower level were on the right from there.
I’m going to play teacher here and give you some key questions and points to ask yourself about when you go.
First, look at where we as humans were on this issue 400/200/100/even 50 years ago and think about how far we have come along in that time… and how far we have to go. Then remember that such things are an evolution, and will take time.
Secondly, ask yourself this: are there areas in which the scales have tipped too far in the other direction? If so, is that part of the leveling out of equality amongst the races? Or are they in areas which we need to consciously rectify?
Thirdly, though the issue of the ill-treatment of African Americans is ultimately the best application, think about if the basic lessons learned from such prejudices can be applied to any other areas: Gender? Age? Education? Occupation? Religious beliefs? Maybe even interests?
Just go. Explore. Expand your mind. Learn something about yourself. You can do it. I believe in you, whoever you are.