A lynching tree? Welcome to the racism museum

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The objects displayed in the US state of Michigan's newest museum range from the ordinary, such as simple ashtrays and fishing lures, to the grotesque – a full-size replica of a lynching tree. But all are united by a common theme: They are steeped in racism so intense that it makes visitors cringe.

That's the idea behind the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, which says it has amassed the nation's largest public collection of artefacts spanning the segregation era, from Reconstruction to the civil rights movement, and beyond. The museum, in a gleaming new exhibit hall at Ferris State University, "is all about teaching, not a shrine to racism," said David Pilgrim, the founder and curator who started building the collection as a teenager.

Mr Pilgrim, who is black, makes no apologies for the provocative exhibits. The goal of the gallery, he explained, is "to get people to think deeply." The displays are startling. The n-word is prevalent throughout, and many items portray black men as lazy, violent or inarticulate. Black women are shown as mammies, sexually charged Jezebels or other stereotypes.

"There's parts in the main room where it's quite gut-wrenching," said Nancy Mettlach, a student conduct specialist at Ferris. "And the thought that was going through my mind was: 'How can one human being do this to another human being?"'

Mr Pilgrim, a former sociology professor at Ferris State, started the collection in the 1970s in Alabama.

In 1996, he donated his 2,000-piece collection to the school after concluding that it "needed a real home".

The collection spent the next 15 years housed in a single room and could be seen only by appointment. Thanks to the financial support of the university, Mr Pilgrim's collection now has a permanent home.

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