Black American Antiques
Black Americana and its controversy intrigue antique collectors
Visitors to antique shops across America will see stores crammed with all sorts of American memorabilia. A 19th century Victrola, a vintage 1960s Barbie, or a campaign button promoting Richard Nixon for president may be lining the shelves. You may also see other things you might not be expecting like a set of spice jars in the shape of Mammy, depicting a grinning, big-lipped, dark-skinned woman wearing a scarf.
The collecting of African-American memorabilia across the country sparks complex questions similar to controversies over Confederate statues. Placing such imagery in the marketplace can raise the question of racism, while also provoking thought that such products preserve history. Antique stores selling black Americana also sell other ruminants of days gone by. Holocaust memorabilia, World War II emblems and other controversial items from history are preserved in the past for future generations. All are a simple reminder of how our history came to be.
These items weren’t made to be racist nor are they now being sold in that capacity. Selling such items, although controversial to some, is necessary. When you erase these items from history, people have no knowledge of where they came from. Most people who buy these items are interested in our nation’s history and the original items have become so popular that people are actually making reproductions to sell. To the collector, it isn’t offensive. It’s just a part of history. To some, black Americana is an art form and should be thought of as such. Art is subjective and in art, you find all kinds of variations.
Black memorabilia items were first made centuries ago, as early as the 1200s. Items at the time ranged from pottery to jewelry that depicted people from Africa. As Europeans and North Americans conducted the slave trade, the pieces gained in popularity and were often used as a way to reinforce stereotypes to bolster slavery. After the Civil War ended, racist depictions were used to market and perpetuate the idea that black people were inferior, according to Collectors Weekly.
The complex issues surrounding black memorabilia extend to the people who buy the items. They are a reminder of injustice in our country as well as a part of our history. They engage people in dialogue and can ultimately keep these injustices alive so that maybe, just maybe history can stop repeating itself.
Such examples of our history, good or bad, are needed to show people of how far we have come as a nation and to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistakes again. Whatever your reason for being fascinated by Black memorabilia or anything antique or vintage related, use it for something good. Use it as a reminder of our history, a tool to teach the younger generation and an honor to those who have had to live through it.