Letter: Between a rock and a hard place?

I AM a sociologist and have been interested in racism studies for many years. I have been staying in Scotland for a few weeks and have just read with great interest an article in Scotland on Sunday on the Jim Crow Rock in Dunoon (News, 24 July).

Although locals believe there is nothing racist about the name and the painting on the rock, the face painted on it immediately made me think of the caricatural and dehumanising portrayals of black people one can see in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia founded by Professor David Pilgrim.

Intrigued by the controversy around the rock, I have found out that the Jim Crow Rock/Stone was known under this name already in the 1870s. The Proceedings of the Royal Society in Edinburgh (volume 9, 1878) mention two Scottish boulders: the first one, in Dunoon, "has painted on it the words Jim Crow, being 15X8X6 feet" the other one, in Kirn, "the words John Bull, 15X12X6 feet".

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In the light of these facts, it seems obvious that the Jim Crow Rock/Stone was not named after some local tradesman. This seems to indicate that the name painted on the rock and the caricatural black face were originally meant as an excellent joke.

Today the inhabitants of Dunoon do not view the rock's name and the painting as racist, but I believe that both the name and the painting were a consequence of 19th-century racism and that some 19th-century Scots knew very well what "Jim Crow" meant in America.

Joanna Tegnerowicz, Opole, Poland