Discuss as:

Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia in Michigan

Jeff Kowalsky / EPA

Blessing Efere looks at Ku Klux Klan items on display at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia located at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan on Friday. The museum's goal is to use objects of intolerance to teach tolerance and promote social justice. In the 1830s and '40s, the white entertainer Thomas Dartmouth Rice performed a popular song-and-dance act supposedly modeled after a slave. He named the character Jim Crow. After the American Civil War (1861-1865), most southern states and, later, border states passed laws that denied blacks basic human rights. It is not clear how, but the minstrel character's name 'Jim Crow' became a kind of shorthand for the laws, customs and etiquette that segregated and demeaned African Americans primarily from the 1870s to the 1960s.

Jeff Kowalsky / EPA

David Pilgrim, Founder and Curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University.

Museum founder and curator David Pilgrim used to buy these items and destroy them, but changed his mind:

He grew up in Mobile, Alabama where he attended segregated schools. One day while shopping, he saw a small "Mammy" figurine for sale.

"I bought it and destroyed it in front of the man who sold it to me," said Pilgrim.

For years after that incident, young David purchased and disposed of racially insulting items wherever he found them. The sheer volume of merchandise forced him, eventually, to change his tactic.

"I found them at flea markets and garage sales as a kid," said Pilgrim. "Items would offend me, and I'd buy them to destroy them. I got older and recognized the historical significance of these items. I stopped destroying them and started collecting them."

Jeff Kowalsky / EPA

Two drinking fountains on display at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.

Jeff Kowalsky / EPA

Modern-day items on display at the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.

Learn more at the museum's web site

Sign up for the msnbc.com Photos Newsletter