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Help publish Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, a new book of stories and images from the Jim Crow Museum's founder and director
Help publish Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, a new book of stories and images from the Jim Crow Museum's founder and director
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“One of the most important contributions to the study of American history that I have ever experienced.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Help publish this 272-page, full-color book by David Pilgrim which examines the significance of longstanding antiblack stories and challenges the integrity of racist narratives. David Pilgrim is the founder and director of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Ferris State University, and author of Understanding Jim Crow.

All groups tell stories, but some groups have the power to impose their stories on others, to label others, stigmatize others, paint others as undesirables—and to have these stories presented as scientific fact, God's will, or wholesome entertainment. Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors examines the origins and significance of several longstanding antiblack stories and the caricatures and stereotypes that undergird them. Here readers will find representations of the lazy, childlike Sambo, the watermelon-obsessed pickaninny, the buffoonish minstrel, the subhuman savage, the loyal and contented mammy and Tom, and the menacing, razor-toting coon and brute.

Malcolm X and James Baldwin both refused to eat watermelon in front of white people. They were aware of the jokes and other stories about African Americans stealing watermelons, fighting over watermelons, even being transformed into watermelons. Did racial stories influence the actions of white fraternities and sororities who dressed in blackface and mocked black culture, or employees who hanged nooses in their workplaces? What stories did the people who refer to Serena Williams and other dark-skinned athletes as apes or baboons hear? Is it possible that a white South Carolina police officer who shot a fleeing black man had never heard stories about scary black men with straight razors or other weapons? Antiblack stories still matter.

Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors uses images from the Jim Crow Museum, the nation's largest publicly accessible collection of racist objects. These images are evidence of the social injustice that Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as a pus-filled boil that "must be exposed to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” Each chapter concludes with a story from the author's journey, challenging the integrity of racial narratives.

Foreword by Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White.

Published November 2017 by Friends of PM, the nonprofit publishing wing of PM Press. Pledges are tax deductible. Books will arrive in time for the holidays in the U.S. and internationally.

This book is 272 pages with full-color images and is ready to print. We just need your pre-orders and support to raise at least $10,000 to pay for the expensive printing, get the book into as many hands as possible, and keep the list price low enough for the book to be as accessible as possible. Please check out the rewards, donate generously, and share widely. Donations will be tax deductible. You'll get your rewards next month. Thanks very much in advance for your support!

Click here for more info about Understanding Jim Crow by David Pilgrim, (H)afrocentric Comics, Revolutionary Mothering: Love on the Front Lines, and Towards Collective Liberation, No Trump shirt, No Wall shirt, and Friends of PM memberships.

David Pilgrim is a professor, orator, and human rights activist. He is best known as the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum—a ten-thousand-piece collection of racist artifacts located at Ferris State University, which uses objects of intolerance to teach about race, race relations, and racism. He is the Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at Ferris State and author of Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice. More info here.

Debby Irving is an emerging voice in the national racial justice community. Combining her organization development skills, classroom teaching experience, and understanding of systemic racism, Irving educates and consults with individuals and organizations seeking to create racial equity at both the personal and institutional level. She is the author of Waking Up White.

"The Jim Crow Museum, founded by the intrepid scholar and collector David Pilgrim, the mission is to display in unflinching detail the elaborate scaffolding of the Jim Crow system. By encountering its astonishing array of tangible objects, from the stereotypical to the horrifying to the searingly symbolic, those coming of age as students and visitors today learn to recognize what was while remaining vigilant about the residues that remain. Undergirding Pilgrim’s effort is his powerful belief that we, as a society, heal better when we stare down the evils that have walked among us, together. The Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University is one of the most important contributions to the study of American History that I have ever experienced.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University, Professor Harvard University

"As the title implies, the book isn’t merely an exercise in shock value. It lays out the philosophy behind Pilgrim’s work as a scholar and an activist: that only by acknowledging these artifacts and their persistence in American culture can we honestly confront our not-so-distant past.” —Dave Gilson, Mother Jones

“For decades the author has been on a Pilgrimage to bring out from our dank closets the racial skeletons of our past. His is a crucial mission, because he forces us to realize that race relations grew worse in the first several decades of the twentieth century— something many Americans never knew or now want to suppress. This book allows us to see, even feel the racism of just a generation or two ago—and Pilgrim shows that elements of it continue, even today. See it! Read it! Feel it! Then help us all transcend it!” —James W. Loewen, author of Lies My Teacher Told Me and coeditor of The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader

“This heavily illustrated book is a memoir of the author’s decades-long drive to collect racist books, illustrations, and knickknacks in order to help Americans confront, understand, and move past racism.” —Jan Gardner, Boston Globe, on Understanding Jim Crow

“It is Pilgrim’s thoughtful and passionately told story that makes the book more than just another, albeit unique, history of U.S. racism.” —Bill Berkowitz, Truthout, on Understanding Jim Crow

“An amazing, wonderful, and important book whose objects and images may offend some readers. Highly recommended for all public and academic levels/libraries.” —F.W. Gleach, CHOICE, on Understanding Jim Crow

“This is a horrifying but important book that should be widely read to gain an accurate view of the long history of racism in the U.S.” —Barbara H. Chasin, Socialism and Democracy, on Understanding Jim Crow

“To justify the exclusion of and violence toward African Americans after the Civil War, pop culture churned out objects, images, songs, and stories designed to reinforce widespread beliefs about white supremacy and black inferiority. Pilgrim has pulled together examples of such so-called black memorabilia, and he clearly explains the meaning and purpose behind them.” —Lisa Hix, Collectors Weekly, on Understanding Jim Crow

“The museum's contents are only a small part of the damaging effects of the Jim Crow laws that were found all across America, including bright and sunny California. This history is not only an important part of understanding where America was but, in an age of states making it harder and harder for citizens to vote, it is relevant to note that we have been here before.”   –Henry Rollins, host of the History Channel’s 10 Things You Don’t Know About

  • Studying the Past in Search of Present-Day Healing – Foreword by Debby Irving
  • Chapter 1 – First Words
  • Chapter 2 – Not Quite Human
  • Chapter 3 – Watermelon Cravers
  • Chapter 4 – Razor-Toting Criminals
  • Chapter 5 – Menaces Who Deserve to Be Hanged
  • Chapter 6 – Hated by Dogs
  • Chapter 7 – Black People and Niggers
  • Chapter 8 – Final Words

  • Product Details: Author: David Pilgrim, Foreword by Debby Irving, Publisher: PM Press, ISBN: 9781629634371, Published: 11/2017, Format: Paperback, Size: 10x8, Page count: 272, Subjects: History-US / African American Studies

The Museum’s mission is to collect, exhibit, and preserve objects and collections related to racial segregation, antiblack caricatures, civil rights, and African American achievement, promote the scholarly examination of historical and contemporary expressions of racism, serve as a teaching resource for Ferris State University courses that deal, directly or indirectly, with the issues of race and ethnicity, and to serve as an educational resource for scholars and teachers at local, national, and international levels.

The Museum features six exhibit areas—Who and What Is Jim Crow, Jim Crow Violence, Jim Crow and Antiblack Imagery, Battling Jim Crow Imagery, Attacking Jim Crow Segregation, and Beyond Jim Crow. The Museum also offers a comprehensive timeline of the African American experience in the United States. The timeline is divided into six sections: Africa Before Slavery, Slavery in America, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, Civil Rights, and Post–Civil Rights. The Jim Crow Museum strives to become a leader in social activism and in the discussion of race and race relations. More info here.

If you are a U.S. citizen, your pledge is tax deductible, minus the cost of your selected reward. If you select not to receive a reward, the total amount of your contribution is tax deductible. At the end of the campaign, when we reach our goal and credit card transactions are completed, we will send out formal, digital tax acknowledgment letters from FOPM for your records. If you have questions about the nonprofit or tax deduction, please get in touch.

Friends of PM is the 501(c)3 nonprofit publishing wing of PM Press. With decades of publishing experience, PM Press has created over 450 nonfiction and fiction books and audio/visual media to educate, entertain, and inspire. Similarly, Friends of PM publishes radical books and media to encourage critical thinking on the key political, cultural, social, economic, and ecological issues shaping life in the United States and in the world today. Friends of PM aims to broaden the audience for serious intellectual work by reaching audiences that have been intellectually marginalized by large corporate publishers, explore a broad range of approaches and solutions to complex public issues, amplify the work of traditionally underrepresented voices, and distribute the information through every available channel, medium, and network.

Risks and challenges

This is the newest Friends of PM release, the nonprofit publishing wing of PM Press. While this brings different risks and challenges than the typical publishing project, PM Press has published nearly 450 releases and sold 900,000 books during the past ten years. The biggest risk is that the cost of printing and shipping Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors is roughly four times the cost of our average $20 book. But we are unwilling to limit the book's exposure or circulation by charging a high, unaffordable list price.

A particular risk of publishing Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors is the extremely offensive nature of the visual content. These images were meant to be offensive, and the items in the Jim Crow Museum served to dehumanize blacks and legitimized patterns of prejudice, discrimination, and segregation. The goal of this book, to use these racist objects and antiblack stories as teaching tools, seems counterintuitive—and, quite frankly, needlessly risky. Many Americans are already apprehensive of discussing race relations, especially in settings where their ideas are challenged. However, this book exists specifically to help overcome our collective trepidation and reluctance to talk about race. With your help, we hope to accomplish this goal.

Built on innumerable volunteer hours, immeasurable skill and publishing experience, and DIY ethics, PM Press has weathered the storm of economic slumps and is proud to have a dozen full and part-time time staff members plus many irreplaceable volunteers. PM has expanded warehouse facilities on both the East and West Coasts and opened an office in London, England. Please help us get Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors into the hands of readers worldwide!

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    THE BOOK & Revolutionary Mothering

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    THE BOOK & Towards Collective Liberation

    Get one copy of Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors AND Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-Racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy by Chris Crass, This book is for activists engaging with dynamic questions of how to create and support effective movements for visionary systemic change. Plus a DIGITAL, eBook version of each book. All formats available, for all eBook readers.

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    Get Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors AND a copy of Dr. Pilgrim's other book Understanding Jim Crow: Using Racist Memorabilia to Teach Tolerance and Promote Social Justice, PLUS a DIGITAL, eBook version of each. All formats available, for all eBook readers.

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    Get Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors PLUS an "No Wall" T-shirt designed by Eric Drooker and get a DIGITAL, eBook version of the book. All formats available, for all eBook readers. Shirts are Union Made and Printed Locally, sizes available S-M-L-XL-2XL.

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    CLASSROOM SET OF 20 (or any number)!

    Get 20 copies of Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors to use for classroom or group discussions about race relations. You also get 20 DIGITAL, eBook versions of the book. All formats available, for all eBook readers. Free shipping in the U.S. For alternative quantities, please get in touch.

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    1 YEAR FRIEND OF PM MEMBERSHIP

    Get a FRIEND OF PM PRESS (FOPM) membership for 1 YEAR. That’s everything we will publish in the next 12 months, about 50 new releases; books, pamphlets, DVDs, and CDs will magically appear on your doorstep every month. AND you will get 50% off all previously published releases, about 450 items. Plus a SIGNED copy of Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, of course.

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    PERSONAL TOUR of the Jim Crow Museum

    Get a PERSONAL TOUR of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia (with round trip PLANE TICKET with HOTEL) in Big Rapids, MI with founder and director David Pilgrim. This is a fantastic learning opportunity to personally experience the museum and artifacts. Plus get a signed copy of the book and a digital, eBook version. Domestic flights only. If more than one person, please get in touch.

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    LIFETIME FRIEND OF PM MEMBERSHIP

    Ge all past, present, and future PM Press releases shipped to your door, plus all new items as they come out. A surprise package of books, pamphlets, DVDs, and CDs will magically appear on your doorstep every month. Plus, you’ll get all of the above prizes, and a SIGNED copy of Watermelons, Nooses, and Straight Razors, of course.

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Funding period

- (33 days)