“How shall integrity face oppression? What shall honesty do in the face of deception, decency in the face of insult, self-defense before blows? How shall desert and accomplishment meet despising, detraction, and lies? What shall virtue do to meet brute force? There are so many answers and so contradictory; and such differences for those on the one hand who meet questions similar to this once a year or once a decade, and those who face them hourly and daily.”
– W. E. B. Dubois (1868-1963)
George Perry Floyd, Jr. (Oct. 14, 1973 – May 25, 2020)
8 minutes and 46 seconds
Say his name
George Floyd’s life mattered. His life story matters. His murder matters. He became part of a horrible trinity on May 25 when his killing came shortly after the murders of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. This trinity is just the most recent example of America’s horrible legacy of racial terror deaths. In the span of a few weeks, these three deaths tragically highlight what many ignore and choose not to see – that racism is ingrained in American society.
Technology permits individuals to document in real-time their life stories, and capture history in the making. For many, these videos share the best of our lives and the aspirational. For African Americans, technology gives us the ability to share our grim reality.
The power of video permits many to see what African Americans have reported for generations – black and white lives do not have the same currency in America. For years, there have been too many videos of lives cut short for living while black. Many African Americans died before George Floyd and there have been others killed since his murder. It must stop now!
As America and the world finally appear to be “woke” to the damage of systemic racism, museums and cultural institutions must lead the charge to make history more inclusive. Many museums have pledged to preserve the history of this moment so that Americans can learn from our mistakes. Cultural institutions are an important catalyst for change.
For centuries African American lives were not their own. Held in bondage, their labor and intellect were used to help build this nation. Then these black bodies were jettisoned when no longer needed.
Still, African Americans survived. They created a culture that infuses America with life today. Their contributions to science, literature, art, music and food ensure that each day Americans benefit from, enjoy and have their lives made easier due to African American intellect and creativity. Today, Americans will not stand for more black lives jettisoned due to hate.
The Alexandria Black History Museum follows in the footsteps of sister museums related to African American history and culture. The ABHM values a history that has been ignored, distorted and undervalued. The ABHM staff strives to give voice to the voiceless. We work to preserve what has been torn down, tossed aside and purposely destroyed. The ABHM is a safe and welcoming place to gather and speak truth to power when the world moves backward instead of forward.
Without early African American institutions, like the Hampton University Museum which opened in 1868, and hundreds of other African American museums, historical societies and organizations, we would have never reached September 2016, when the Smithsonian Institution opened the National Museum of African American History and Culture to the public. It’s a national site that reminds the world every day that black lives matter.
No longer will African American history be in the words of Preservation Virginia “… suppressed, excluded, misrepresented and undervalued …” All keepers of African American heritage pledge to forever say George Floyd’s name, preserve the history he represents and educate the public about the millions of brilliant minds lost to hate in America.
George Floyd is one man. A man who ignited a movement with the words “I can’t breathe.” It is time for all of America to take a breath and fight in his memory. Fight to make this world a better place, so no African American ever has to plead, “I can’t breathe.”
The writer is director of the Alexandria Black History Museum. The Office of Historic Alexandria, through the ABHM, is documenting stories from this moment in American history. Please consider donating protest placards, buttons, stickers, artwork and t-shirts. We hope you will also work with us to tell your stories through our Oral History Program. Please visit The Legacy of George Floyd: Documenting Alexandria’s Response for more information on this new initiative.