SALISBURY, MD---From Aunt Jemima to Uncle Mose, Black memorabilia of the 19th and 20th centuries offered negative perceptions of African-Americans to the non-Black community that many civil rights pioneers fought to overcome in the 1960s.
The African-American community continues to struggle against these today. Salisbury University Communication and Theatre Arts associate professor Robert Smith explores these perceptions and the icons behind them during his talk “Manufacturing Culture: Representation and the Black Collectible,” the next installment of SU’s Brown Bag Lunch Discussion Series. His talk is 12:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29, in the University Gallery of Fulton Hall.
African-American images have been used in everything from mammy-themed housewares to trade cards, toys and vacation souvenirs featuring stereotypical images such as the Sambo and the picaninny.
Smith, who is African-American, became interested in Black collectibles after seeing a set of mammy-style salt and pepper shakers from 1920 that were given as a gift to a friend.
“They were really intriguing to me. In 1920 they were considered a reasonable gift,” he said, adding that same gift would seem very inappropriate today.
The collector said he associated the pieces with images from his youth, including a Black character coin bank referenced in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, which Smith read in high school, and Smith’s own first encounter with segregation as a young child at a drive-in movie theatre in Virginia. In 2004, he displayed his collection publicly for the first time as curator of an African-American collectibles exhibit at the University Gallery in Fulton Hall.
Sponsored by the Charles R. and Martha N. Fulton School of Liberal Arts, Smith’s talk is free and the public is invited. For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU Web site at www.salisbury.edu.