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'Say Their Names' installation pops up in Ashland

A chilling memorial to Black people killed by police sprang up last week on wire fence along 200 yards of bike path in Ashland’s Railroad Park.

The “Say Their Names” installation, erected anonymously, displays the names of 100 victims of racism, painted on T-shirts that flap eerily and silently in a long line, with a placard saying it commemorates the first laws passed in Oregon Territory, on June 28, 1844, declaring that slavery was prohibited in the state, but so were Black people.

“We believe the date of this installation, 176 years later,” it said, “is an auspicious date for us to communicate that we must put an end to systemic racism, police brutality and the killing of Black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) in the U.S.”

A big sign prompts, “Say Their Names.” Many of the names are familiar from horrific news stories — Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Elijah McClain, and, of course, George Floyd, whose May murder by Minneapolis police triggered worldwide protests against racist police violence.

“This is very moving,” said stroller Priscilla Oppenheimer. “It’s sad to see that Americans killed all these people.”

“It really brings awareness,” said Melissa Daniels, as she walked by the display. “It’s remarkable, all these people killed by police violence.”

“I was powerfully moved by this display as I rode along the bikeway. Tears. Enough,” wrote Linda Peterson Adams, on a Tidings thread on Facebook.

A post about the display on the Facebook page of “Ashland Oregon, Then & Now” by Ashland photographer Christopher Briscoe drew howls of protest, as well as support.

Briscoe said he hoped the display stretched all the way to Central Point. “Ironically, I had my earbuds in — listening to Willie Nelson sing ‘City of New Orleans.’ When he sang the line, ‘Good Morning, America, how are ya?’ I started to weep, and said aloud, ‘Not good. Not good at all.’”

Opponents of the display called protesters “wokesters” who should “go back to California.” Others noted the huge numbers of police who saved people or were killed in the line of duty.

Someone else posted a photo of a KKK march in Ashland in the 1920s, adding, “there are racist idiots in Ashland too. And persecution against people of color, and, yes, white supremacy in our perfect little white town.”

When one person posted “you’re lucky to live in such a beautiful, versatile, loving community,” a woman of color responded, “Wtf, I should be lucky you let me remain in town after sundown? This town needs a lot of work.”

The comment was in reference to Oregon’s notorious “sundown laws,” which forbade Black people from remaining in a town after sundown. Such laws were common, including in Ashland until about the 1960s.

The “Say Their Names” placard noted, “We will not stop our demands for justice and policy reform in response to police brutality until meaningful change occurs.” It said the display mentions only a few of the thousands, but it stands for all Black people “whose lives were taken unjustly in the U.S. over the last 400 years.”

This includes 6,500 lynchings of Black people in the Jim Crow period of the South, 1865 to 1950, as documented by the Equal Justice Initiative.

It noted it’s important to honor the Black people “in our predominantly white community of Ashland as we reflect on the far-reaching effects of ongoing systemic racism in our country.”

The display purposefully posts the names of many Black women, as part of the #SayHerName movement that seeks to establish that not all victims are male.

It said, “George Floyd was not the first, and until there are no more, the battle continues. Once again and always, we fight for justice. George Floyd and every hashtag before him deserved to live. We must #SayTheirNames until we can live. Until we can breathe. Our lives have value. The fight continues until every single human knows #BlackLivesMatter.”

Amplifying Melanated Voice, an Ashland social justice organization, held a candlelight vigil attended by about 100 people at the installation Friday evening.

The people who erected the installation wanted to remain anonymous to honor the dead, said a woman at the site.

Photo by John DarlingThe names of 100 people of color killed by police are included in the “Say Their Names” installation.
Photo by John DarlingA social justice installation popped up in Ashland’s Railroad Park last week.