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Vol. 9, No. 1: Spring 2003

Heritage, not Hate? Collecting Black Memorabilia

by Lynn Casmier-Paz

“When I arrived at the Silver Spring Armory, I found the place jammed with brown and black people hawking rusted ‘Authentic Slave Shackles’ that only a consumer with a platinum credit card could purchase.”

Early in my research on slave narratives and the popular imagination I was leafing through moldy magazines when I became transfixed by a proliferation of advertisements that used images of black children. At the back of the journals’ yellowing pages, I saw blackened, tar-colored characters that were used to sell stove polish, black shoes, black thread—any domestic good that could be sold by exploiting the children’s exaggerated blackness. The connection between these characters and the goods they advertised was not readily apparent to me then, and I became determined to understand their purpose. I started to photocopy those images wherever I saw them in magazines from around the turn of the twentieth century. It was not until later that I learned that my desire to collect these images had inadvertently placed me in the company of an elite, but controversial, group of African Americans who trade in these images and other objects, which they have labeled “black memorabilia.”

This article appears as an abstract above, the complete article can be accessed in Project Muse
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