Real Life :: Tony Carr
Tony Carr knows all about bridging the tough issues. Just one look at the Stillwater native’s collection of memorabilia and it’s easy to see why. It’s a part of history that’s tough to view for both kids and adults—and even tougher to talk about.
Carr, a former professional basketball player, and currently a professional diversity speaker, began collecting black memorabilia about 20 years ago. Every piece of Carr’s collection has a story, and he knows every word of it.
What was your first piece of memorabilia?
My first piece was an Aunt Jemima salt and pepper shaker [set]. I bought it down in northern Illinois for [about] 50 cents. After that, I started paying attention and researching memorabilia. I’d see an ashtray and wonder where it came from. That got the juices flowing. It’s history, but there’s no finger pointing. It’s not about that. It’s about everyone’s struggle.
Has having kids changed how you collect and display?
Once my daughters began arriving, I changed my collection a bit. I rotate my artifacts in accordance to my daughters, and what I think is appropriate to display based on their ages.
Without a doubt, the piece that children (and most adults) notice first is the Klansman statue. It’s an eerie thing…period. My parents could not even look at it. They had personal experience. I had to put it away when they were visiting.
How has your collection affected your children in a positive way?
One thing I’ve found, each time [my daughters] become more aware of my memorabilia pieces, it’s a history lesson. When it was Martin Luther King Day, they would see videos at school and see the KKK…they would come back to me and say, ‘I saw that (he gestures toward the Klan statue) in a video!’ This gives them an opportunity to talk about it.
I try to give my daughters positive role models to gravitate toward. All my girls love the Muhammad Ali doll from the ’70s, for example. They saw him on a video and it gave me an opportunity to tell them what he stood for, and how active he was in the civil rights movement.
What is it that you hope this collection conveys to your girls?
Two things: the first is to understand their ancestors, and how their blood, sweat, and tears gave them the privileges they have today. And number two, I tell them no matter what kind of day you have at school, it’s never going to be as bad as it was back in those days. It’s definitely a privilege to have that opportunity.
I would like to take all of my daughters to Mississippi. I’m waiting until my youngest is around seven or eight. I’d like them to touch the dirt. It’s a weird feeling to sit on your roots, to feel it—it does overtake you. It’s instinctual, and it’s home. I want to see if they feel the same thing. They’re just about ready.