Over the past week, we’ve all seen so much in the city in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. It’s hard to summarize it with any coherence, so here are some of the things we’ve seen that are especially powerful or symbolic.
The size of the protests
Taking a knee
Say Their Names
Recognition of many others who have died under circumstances similar to George Floyd.
Blood on their hands protest at the US Capitol organized by the Freedom Fighters, 6/3/2020. @Karen Ramsey
North Capitol protest
Black Lives Matter signs hang from the overpasses on North Capitol Street to send a message to the presidential motorcade as it passed after a trip for publicity photos at the John Paul II Center on 6/2/2020. @Karen RamseyAs the motorcade passes on North Capitol residents hold Black Life Matters signs for the presidential entourage, 6/2/2020. @Karen Ramsey
Slave quarters in Lafayette Square
These words were spray-painted on the side of Decatur House during the Saturday night protests. Decatur House is an historic house facing the White House across Lafayette Square, and at first glance, it might be sad to see that it has been defaced. Henry Clay lived here, as did future President Martin van Buren, when they were Secretaries of State.
But Charlotte Dupay lived there too. She was born in Maryland and sold into slavery as a child. Henry Clay bought her from the man who had originally purchased her, and she lived in this back portion of Decatur House, which had been built as servants’ quarters but was turned into slave quarters for Charlotte and other enslaved people who lived there under Henry Clay and Martin van Buren.
Charlotte Dupay eventually sued for her freedom, under a promise that had been made by her previous owner, but Henry Clay opposed it and she lost in U.S. Circuit Court. Clay enslaved Charlotte and her family for many more years until eventually freeing them. Before he freed the family, he often took Charlotte’s son Charles with him on speaking trips to speak about how “well” he treated enslaved people.
So the spray-painted words “Why do we have to tell you that Black Lives Matter?” are on the building where the highest-ranking U.S. government officials – Secretaries of State – bought, owned, and sold black people.
And in process …..
Black Lives Matter is being painted this morning down two blocks of 16th Street by the White House, in advance of Saturday’s expected large protest. We are not sure of the origins of this, but it has been sanctioned and is being facilitated by the Department of Public Works.
We are white photographers trying to listen and learn, but not always getting it right. Our intent is to amplify voices and support the fight for equality; it is never the intent to objectify people or profit from these images. The Smithsonian National Museum of African American Culture has a new platform that is a good resource for learning how to talk about race.
We wish everyone in the city health and safety during this time of the pandemic and of confronting racial injustice. Note that as photographers, we have generally been able to socially distance while documenting the protests by using longer lenses and picking our locations, but the protestors in the middle of the crowds obviously have not been able to socially distance during some of the protests.