Hundreds of thousands of people made their own pieces of artwork to bring to the White House during the summer 2020 Black Lives Matter protests against police brutality. Though authorities worked hard to remove the signs from the barricade, activists worked hard to make sure the pieces were preserved. Now, the Library of Congress has digitized these pieces for their online exhibit, adding the banners and signs to their extended historical archive, according to NPR.
There are currently 30 pieces of artwork available for view, per the LOC website, and some are to be distributed nationally.
“[The Library] wants people to see those signs, the messages and contextualize them with other parts of our collection that talk about similar issues,” said Aliza Leventhal, head of technical services for the prints and photography division of the Library of Congress.
The signs are being housed in a storage unit in Washington, D.C., as they await to be scanned by archivists at Baltimore’s Enoch Pratt Free Library, a joint project with the D.C. Public Library.
A small collection of signs were exhibited in Tulsa, Okla., last year as part of the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre and a number of them were also collected by Howard University.
Activists Nadine Seiler and Karen Irwin had worked together to collect the pieces, reported NPR. Not only were they dedicated to preserving the art but also enforcing the significance of why the art was there. On Oct 26, counter protestors attempted to rip down the signs from the fence, reported NPR. Seiler and Irwin took turns monitoring the fence to make sure the pieces weren’t damaged.
The barricades planted 600 feet from the White House were intended to keep protestors away and instead were turned into a mural by demonstrators. Insider documented the variety of pieces hung on the fence from “Black Lives Matter” signs, to “27” balloons to celebrate Breonna Taylor’s birthday, and little crosses with the names of police brutality victims.
Insider also reported curators from the National Museum of African American History and Culture as well as DC Mayor Muriel Bowser had shown interest in preserving these “artifacts.” More museums and libraries have shown interest in collecting the pieces.
Following the story published by NPR last October, the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tenn., and the George Floyd and Anti-Racist Street Art Archive database also expressed interest in receiving pieces of artwork for exhibits and archival purposes.
Once all 800-plus items have been scanned, Seiler says the gifting process for the artwork will officially begin.
Ideally, she says organizers with the D.C. chapter of Black Lives Matter would like for the pieces to stay in the hands of Black organizations. But, Seiler said that wherever the pieces might land, she hopes people would recognize their worth and the messages behind them.
Think about how students in the future can use these pieces when they go to write their essays and make presentations on what we witnessed two years ago. It emphasizes how engrained these moments will be in history just like the moments we remember now from the Civil Rights era.