Throughout my life, my mother has often said to me that she “won’t allow someone to cry alone in her presence.” With such a role model in my life, it’s no surprise that I grew up being a person who is acutely sensitive to the pain of those around him. It is very easy for me to see a person in pain and have an immediate and gut-wrenching reaction to it. This made reading Uncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright and The Ways of White Folks by Langston Hughes difficult for me, but a valuable experience. I had always thought of Jim Crow as a terrible thing, but I had trouble understanding how emotionally terrifying it truly was. The narratives of life in the Jim Crow South, living in fear of violence for the smallest slight or none at all, affected me very deeply.
Sarah in “Long Black Song” and her tragic tale affected me gravely. In the story, Sarah is watching her child at home while her husband is in town selling cotton, when a traveling salesman visits her house and eventually rapes her. I had studied Jim Crow before, and I understood how rape was used by Whites in the South, both as a tool against African American women and as an excuse for killing African American men. I had never before been able to truly understand this, however, until Richard Wright’s story engendered an emotional connection within me. This story allowed me to feel true anger and outrage over what had been allowed to occur in the nation I call home.
The only other time that I was confronted with the pain and terror of living in the Jim Crow South, was on a visit during my undergrad at Central Michigan University to the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan. Professor David Pilgrim, Ph.D. founded the museum and curates it today. Dr. Pilgrim is an African American man who grew up in Mobile, Alabama and has collected racist memorabilia since he was a young man. Dr. Pilgrim explains in an essay on the museum’s website that he has collected racist memorabilia because of how deeply he hates it and he decided to found the Jim Crow Museum in an effort to “use objects of intolerance to teach tolerance.” The collection at the Museum is extensive and often as troubling as the stories by Richard Wright and Langston Hughes.
One thing that I have never been able to understand, and most likely never will, is the desire to collect such objects. I have read Dr. Pilgrim’s essay and I can recite why he collects such hateful things, but I don’t think I will ever be able to see an object that elicits such negative emotions within me and desire to own them. I am just thankful that there are such people out there like Dr. Pilgrim, because using these objects to teach tolerance and assure such terrible things as Jim Crow never return is far more important than avoiding the pain of revisiting such topics.
 Richard Wright, Uncle Tom’s Children, (HarperCollins: Pymble, Australia) 2009
 Dr. David Pilgrim, “Why I Collect Racist Objects”, http://www.ferris.edu/jimcrow/menu.htm