Visitors can forget about touring the exhibits and retiring untroubled to a cafe or gift shop. Some leave angry or offended. Most feel a kind of "reflective sadness," Pilgrim said.
But that's not enough. If the museum "stayed at that, then we failed," he said. "The only real value of the museum has ever been to really engage people in a dialogue."
So Pilgrim designed the tour to give visitors a last stop in a "room of dialogue," where they're encouraged to discuss what they've seen and how the objects might be used to promote tolerance and social justice.
Some of the objects in the museum are a century old. Others were made as recently as this year.
Ferris State sophomore Nehemiah Israel was particularly troubled by a series of items about President Barack Obama.
One T-shirt on display reads: "Any White Guy 2012." Another shirt that says "Obama '08" is accompanied by a cartoon monkey holding a banana. A mouse pad shows robe-wearing Ku Klux Klan members chasing an Obama caricature above the words, "Run Obama Run."
"I was like, 'Wow. People still think this. This is crazy,'" Israel said.
One of the first rooms in the museum features a full-size replica of a tree with a lynching noose hanging from it. Several feet away, a television screen shows a video of racist images through the years.
The location of the museum - in the shadow of university founder Woodbridge Ferris' statue - also catches some by surprise. The mostly white college town of Big Rapids is 150 miles from Detroit, the state's largest predominantly black city.
Ferris, who later served as Michigan governor and as a U.S. senator, founded the school more than a century ago. He once said Americans should work to provide an "education for all children, all men and all women."
Pilgrim, who is also Ferris State's vice president for diversity and inclusion, initially considered giving his collection to a historically black college, but he wanted to be "near it enough to make sure it was taken care of."
Most of the objects "are anti-black caricatures, everyday objects or they are segregationist memorabilia," he said. Because they represent a cruel, inflammatory past, they "should either be in a garbage can or a museum."