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Ashland community rebuilds downed memorial

Members of the Ashland community came together this weekend to rebuild a memorial dedicated to Black people killed by police around the country, after it was torn down overnight on Saturday.

“It was a day that started with tears and ended up overflowing with joy,” said Ashland resident Wendy Conner, one of the memorial’s original architects.

Multiple families came to Ashland’s Railroad Park Saturday evening to redecorate the fence along the park’s bike path with signs, banners, pictures and T-shirts according to Conner.

The original Say Their Names Memorial, which pinned to the park’s fence more than 100 T-shirts with names such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Freddie Gray was removed in the early hours Saturday by an unknown person or group, according to an Ashland police Facebook post posted early Saturday evening.

The police department took a theft report for the memorial Saturday and is asking the public for tips to determine what happened to the memorial project erected in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to the Say Their Names Facebook page, organizers say they last saw the memorial intact at 9 p.m. Friday. Ashland police’s anonymous tip line is 541-552-2333 and is monitored by detectives 24 hours a day. APD detectives can also be emailed at tipline@ashland.or.us.

The original memorial was installed June 28, marking the anniversary of an 1844 law passed in the Oregon Territory that prohibited slavery in the state, but also prohibited Black people at the time, according to earlier news reports.

According to Conner, the idea for the memorial came from fellow Ashland resident Joanne Feinberg, who was inspired by a similar installation in Los Angeles.

Since its installation, Conner said she would check the memorial periodically, occasionally finding shirts or banners removed, She was stunned to find the fence completely empty Saturday morning. “It was heartbreaking,” said Conner.

Phoenix resident Lara Howell, who is Black, said she felt targeted upon hearing the news. “I felt personally attacked,” she said.

Howell said she and her Ashland friend Cassie Preskenis both decided to gather Black Lives Matter signs, markers, cardboard and zip ties and drive to Railroad Park to rebuild the memorial,

Howell said she was pleasantly surprised to find multiple families — having also heard the news from the Say Their Names Facebook post — gathered along the fence working to rebuild the installation, as well as park passerbys expressing their support.

According to Preskenis, people worked on the project until the fence was once again completely covered, an act of community collaboration she said felt healing.

While Preskenis was upset the original memorial was torn down, she said she wasn’t shocked by its theft, adding that the crime helped draw attention to the existing racism in Ashland.

Howell said she has felt isolated in the past having seen people get upset over expressions of Black pride and calls for racial justice.

However, Howell said she was heartened by the community support she saw for the memorial, and hopes more people come to the park to contribute to the installation. No matter how many times people try to tear the memorial down, Howell said, they will continue rebuilding.

“We’re just going to keep doing it,” she said.

Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch Supporters are working to rebuild the "Say Their Names" memorial at Railroad Park in Ashland on Sunday.
Francie Parr, of Ashland, hangs up a sign at the "Say Their Names" memorial at Railroad Park in Ashland on Sunday. (Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch)