Antiques market draws protests over Jim Crow-era items' racist depictions of Black people
Some dealers are taking their booths out of a Wisconsin antiques market, upset with the lack of response from owners after a vendor raised concerns about a collection of Jim Crow-era items that present offensive, racist caricatures of Black people.
Vendor Chloe Longmire and more than a dozen others protested outside the market in Milwaukee on Thursday and Saturday, calling for the objects to be donated to museums.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a member of the USA TODAY Network, has not been able to interview the market's owners, listed through the Better Business Bureau as Brian and Cheryl Belli. At the store on Saturday, a person who would not identify himself said the business had no comment.
Billed as the largest antique mall in southeastern Wisconsin, the three-story building houses booths that are maintained by over 100 different dealers. The business started in 2010 as Antiques on Second on South Second Street and rebranded as Antiques on Pierce after relocating to W. Pierce Street in 2015.
'It's actually really racist'
Longmire and her daughter were setting up to sell her business’ apparel, Chase My Creations, for a pop-up market at Antiques on Pierce Feb. 25 when she noticed another booth with degrading imagery of Black people.
Longmire said she asked to speak with someone in charge and explained her concerns to the person to whom she was directed. She doesn’t believe it was the owner. She said the person told her the objects are “part of history” and dismissed her concerns.
"And I said no, it's actually really racist," Longmire recalled. "The Black caricatures inherently were derived from the Jim Crow era. They were meant to be harmful to how people viewed and treated African Americans."
What are the objects and what do they mean?
The booth has a range of items depicting Black caricatures. It's unclear who operates the stall. The items included:
A postcard image of an alligator chasing a Black person up a tree. Scholars have said such images are based on reports of white people using Black babies as bait while hunting in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
An “Aunt Dinah” molasses tin, “Aunt Jemima” packaging and an “Aunt Jemima paper towel holder,” which is a cut-out of a Black woman whose arms become the towel holder. Aunt Dinah and Aunt Jemima have been categorized as “Mammy caricatures,” which portray Black women as contented in servitude.
Figurines of Black people eating watermelons. Such imagery depicted Black people as “ignorant, mindless buffoons,” according to the Jim Crow Museum.
A toy labeled as a “Black Minstrel Whirligig.” Minstrel shows famously caricatured Black people as “lazy, ignorant, superstitious, hypersexual, and prone to thievery and cowardice,” according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
A Fairbanks can of cleaning powder featuring the Gold Dust twins. Designed in 1984, the Black twin children were marketed as “helpers for overworked white housewives,” according to historian J. Dennis Robinson.
Dealers pull goods, owners call police
Longmire was joined by supporters with signs outside Antiques on Pierce on Thursday and Saturday. On Saturday morning, the group handed out fliers and talked to shoppers as they arrived. Most shoppers continued into the store while some stopped to talk or decided to leave.
Milwaukee Police officers were parked across the street to "keep the peace" after the market called them, said Sgt. Jay Rosado. He said he didn't see the protesters doing anything wrong.
At least three dealers have decided to pull their booths out of the store.
Hope Holubowicz, who owns Sweetie-Q's Vintage, said she decided to stop selling at Antiques on Pierce because of the lack of response from the owners about the concerns.
"I don't want to be affiliated with someone unwilling to see the harm," Holubowicz said. "When you know better, you do better. This is such blatant ignorance."
One dealer, Theatre Classics Warehouse, posted on Facebook about the decision to leave: "I’m not going to lie, I’m taking a financial hit doing this, but I know I’m doing the right thing and my money and labor will no longer go to support Antiques on Pierce."
Another dealer shared with the Journal Sentinel a photo of the guidelines she said dealers receive at the market. They note that managers may "monitor the quality of merchandise" and remove non-compliant items.
Items belong in a museum, not sold for profit, protesters say
Longmire said the objects in the store should be donated to museums, where they can be displayed alongside educational materials about their harmful history.
Juan Miguel Martinez, a county supervisor representing the store's south side neighborhood, agreed. He attended the Thursday protest.
"I wanted to make sure it’s known that in my district, which is primarily Latine, it’s important that as Latine people we stand together with the Black community to make sure these kind of things don’t happen and keep getting perpetuated," he said.
Vaun Mayes, a community activist who was part of the protest, said he wants to see better guidelines for dealers in the future so such items can't be sold. He, too, thinks they should be in museums.
"That is the only place that they can have proper context and educational, historical value," Mayes said. "Otherwise they're being sold as amusement, entertainment."
This article originally appeared on USATNetwork: Racist, Jim Crow-era items at Milwaukee antique market draw protests