Manchester University
Oak Leaves

February 15, 2019


Dr. David Pilgrim, founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, a 12,000 piece collection of historical artifacts located at Ferris State University, spoke at MU.

Dr. David Pilgrim Presents Martin Luther King Jr. Day VIA

Zoe Vorndran


Braving the cold, frigid weather, Manchester University students and community members filled Cordier Auditorium to listen to Dr. David Pilgrim’s presentation on Thursday, Jan. 31, at 7 p.m. After warming the audience up with jokes and good-natured conversation, Pilgrim, a sociologist and charismatic public speaker, talked about holding conversations on controversial issues.

Pilgrim spoke as part of the Values, Ideas and Arts presentations commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His visit was organized by Michael Dixon, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs and chief campus diversity officer. “Dr. King wanted to have different groups of people understand and respect their traditions,” Dixon said.

During his engaging, thought-provoking presentation, Pilgrim discussed controversial topics such as race, sexism, poverty, diversity and gender, while using examples from the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia that he founded in Big Rapids, MI. Pilgrim’s dedication showed as he talked about the hundreds of artifacts annually donated to the museum.

He explained the process of opening, collecting and maintaining the Jim Crow Museum. Starting as a young teenager, he purchased his first object, and by the 1990s he had acquired over 3,000 artifacts. Pilgrim then opened the museum in April 2012.

“The purpose of the museum is to try to talk openly and honestly about race,” he said. “We believe in the triumph of dialogue.” He uses artifacts in the museum to initiate conversations about race and to understand the perception of African Americans in American culture.

One of the stories Pilgrim told was about a time he passed a doll, not heavily caricatured, around a circle of students at the University of Western Michigan. Each person in the circle had the opportunity to describe and explain what the doll meant to them. “It struck me how different it is that you can take two people and they look at the same thing, they hear the same music, they look at whatever, and they not only bring different things to the objects, but they explain it and interpret it differently,” he reflected. “We bring our experiences, fears and expectations to race.”

Throughout the presentation, Pilgrim also emphasized his motto, “Don’t crush people.” He shared instances when he had to engage in dialogue about race in the workforce, flea markets and other universities. He advised people to be more open to talking about race without trying to prove or win a debate, while also sharing a story when he missed an opportunity to create a safe place to speak about race. Pilgrim emphasized the importance of speaking honestly and listening while discussing race and other controversial matters.

“What stuck out to me was his stories about crushing people,” said Landon Bridges, a senior athletic training major. “I think his advice on not crushing people was important.” He continued by stating that people have too much of a tendency to embarrass people instead of talking about issues. Bridges admitted that Pilgrim’s motto can be difficult to follow.

“It’s hard especially when people have far different beliefs or have ideas rooted in hate,” he said. “It feels like we have to crush this person to change their mind, but if we’re able to have open dialogue about what is happening, including all the stereotypes, ugly feelings and why we have these feelings, open dialogue could work.”

Dixon also agreed with Pilgrim’s advice on how to communicate effectively with others about race. “When I think about the ignorant things people do or say to widen the diversity gap, if I respond in a way that could be seen as completely justified but doesn’t open the lines of communication, that’s another lost opportunity to educate and plant a seed,” he said. “Not talking about it doesn’t solve the problem. We all need to acknowledge it and then figure out how not to repeat the ugliness of the past.”

Dixon emphasized that he, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, implement Dr. Pilgrim’s advice through the work that they do at the Jean Childs Young Intercultural Center and their outreach efforts to include all students.

Pilgrim finished his presentation by reading a reflection he had written after he lectured at a conference. In the reflection, Pilgrim talked about what it means to be a brother to everyone that transcends common ancestors, race, history and experiences. He concluded that everyone is his brother and sister despite the issues that may separate them.