A Tennessee library’s collection of Black Americana memorabilia displayed in honor of Black History Month is causing a stir among some visitors, who consider the pieces offensive.
According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, the Blount County Public Library in Maryville, Tenn. recently displayed a local resident’s collection of Black Americana, including art and advertisements that were used to negatively portray Blacks in the early 20th century.
Some of the pieces feature what some Blacks regard as negative stereotypes such as exaggerated lips and dark skin.
Sissy Ferguson, 55, is the owner of the memorabilia and doesn’t see the harm in the pieces.
“I wanted a piece of history to constantly remind me of the place that we came from,” Ferguson, who is Black, told the Sentinel. “I wanted them because I thought they were beautiful. In my mind there is nothing I can do to change the history of those things, but what I could do is embrace it. It’s my history, and it’s all of our history.”
Ferguson, who is the director of the Martin Luther King Community Center in Tennessee, collects Black Americana items and owns over 150 pieces.
But some of the library’s visitors took offense to the display.
“I got angry, because I felt like it was a waste of space in this time,” Donna Scaife, a Black visitor told the Sentinel. “This is hard for me to get this out of my mind. They should be kept in a private setting. At least have something else that celebrates this is where we are. All of us are living in 2011.”
The library’s directors countered the criticism, saying the pieces are a part of history and are being used to educate the community about that particular era in American life.
The library only has few restrictions on its displays. Exhibits that display commercial solicitation, describe personal political or religious views or are obscene or defamatory are banned.
The preservation and sale of Black Americana has been a debate among many Americans for years.
A storeowner in Noblesville, Ind. came under fire in December when many considered some of the soaps he was selling offensive, according to Fox News’ Indianapolis affiliate Fox59. Gary Dewster, owner of Logan Village Mall refused to stop selling the soaps named “Kolored Kids” and “Darkie” that depicted Blackface images, despite receiving criticism.
He told Fox59 that the soaps were popular because patrons were buying them as gag gifts and people are too concerned about being “politically correct.”