The Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock will open its newest exhibit, "Hateful Things," on Thursday. It features what is considered to be racist memorabilia that has been collected by Dr. David Pilgrim, the founder and director of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. He has spent a lifetime researching, collecting, and understanding racist objects.
Standing inside the exhibit space, MTCC Executive Director Christina Shutt said viewing these items collectively makes a powerful statement.
"We know from these objects and from Dr. Pilgrim’s research that it’s not a one-time thing. This has been a long history that goes back over 100 years. These items are still being made today," Shutt said.
When visitors see the exhibit, Shutt says they can expect to see signs, photographs and other items from throughout history that convey the culture of hate and intolerance. The collection includes signs that display derogatory language towards African-Americans, signs with confederate flags, a Ghettopoly game board – based on the traditional game Monopoly – and several iconic images that depict racism.
Shutt says the culture of hate that these objects perpetuate is upsetting.
"I do this work everyday and I still find these images disturbing. I think that is part of what we want people to understand," Shutt said.
A reception is scheduled at the MTCC to begin Thursday at 5:30 p.m. to commemorate the "Hateful Things" exhibit. Dr. Pilgrim will be at the event to explain how racist memorabilia came into existence, the purpose of these objects, and how they were used in society.
Dr. Linda Holzer from University of Arkansas at Little Rock will perform "Fantasie Negre" at the reception. This piece is believed to be a tribute to Elaine Massacre victims written by Little Rock composer Florence Price.
"I really hope that people walk out of this exhibit inspired and encouraged, but also challenged to confront racist images when they see them. We really want to challenge people, encourage people, and help people understand that we don’t have to live in a world that’s like this. We can create something better," Shutt said.
When asked what piece from the "Hateful Things" exhibit resonated with her the most, Shutt gestured to a picture of African-American children. In the picture, the children are shown sitting or standing. Underneath them is a piece of an alligator and the words "alligator bait."
"As a mother myself, I am really struck by that, by the idea that our children will be seen as alligator bait. I think that it is one of those pieces that makes it real and brings it home to people. None of our children should be seen that way."
Shutt says that normalizing these types of images is how otherness is established.
"If you are constantly surrounded by thinking of black people as others, as less than, as not your equal, then you are more likely to not feel the weight of the destruction of a community."
Shutt says that these types of beliefs are what led to the Elaine Massacre. On Sept. 30, 1919, shots were fired at a group of black people arguing for fairer wages. Then governor, Charles Hilliam Brough, was told the group was leading a revolt against white people. Brough gathered troops from Camp Pike, which led to the persecution of several African-Americans. The Equal Justice Initiative has identified 230 African-Americans who were murdered.
“Our first and foremost job as a museum is to educate people. I myself am a firm believer that to be an informed citizen you have to be informed. Part of that information is understanding where we’ve come from as a country but also as part of a state,” Shutt said.
According to Shutt, educating the public of Arkansas’s history of racism can help end future hateful acts.
The exhibit will be displayed at the MTCC until Nov. 30. Admission is free.
What: Opening reception for "Hateful Things"
When: Thursday, Sept. 19. 2019, 5:30 p.m.
Where: Mosaic Templars Cultural Center
501 W. 9th Street
Little Rock, AR 72201
Phone: (501) 683-3593