‘Say Their Names,’ memorial honoring Black people killed by racism, debuts in NYC

Over 20 New Yorkers are included in "Say Their Names," including Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner and the 10 victims of May's mass shooting in Buffalo.

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The “Say Their Names” display tour continues this month in an area of Central Park that for decades was once one of America’s largest Black settlements. The moving memorial, organized nationally by the San Diego African American Museum of Fine Art, is a grassroots effort to remember more than 200 African Americans who have died as a result of racism and injustice over two centuries.

According to NBC News, more than 20 New Yorkers are included in the Seneca Village exhibit, including Malcolm X, Amadou Diallo, Eric Garner and the 10 victims of a mass shooting in May at a Tops Friendly supermarket in Buffalo.

A photograph of George Floyd is displayed with others in the “Say Their Names” exhibit that opened in San Diego, California, in 2021. The memorial will open in New York this month in an area of Central Park notable in Black history. It features 200 Black Americans who lost their lives due to systemic racism and racial injustice. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

“Racial violence has been a distinct part of American history since 1660,” SDAAMFA executive director Gaidi Finnie said in a statement, NBC reported. “While that violence has impacted every ethnic and racial group in the United States, it has had a particularly horrific effect on African American life ranging from revolts of the enslaved and lynchings to urban uprisings and calculated acts of murder.” He said the museum was “honored to bring this exhibition to New York City and dedicate it to the ongoing fight to end systemic racism.”

Visitors in New York City who want to fully experience “Say Their Names” must download the Membit mobile app — a geolocation augmented-reality storytelling platform — on their smartphones or tablets to receive instructions and a map of the display. The app will also offer the names and circumstances of those featured.

In a statement, Jay Van Buren, Membit’s founder and CEO, lauded augmented reality and noted that one of its best uses is to uncover the unseen. In this case, it’s possible to view a full photo exhibit via cellphone, which the majority of people already own.

“Through the combination of technology and the human sentiment, we hope this exhibition will inspire a movement towards change and a better way forward,” said Van Buren, according to NBC.

New York’s historic Seneca Village area is a noteworthy location for the “Say Their Names” memorial exhibit. In the mid-1800s, it provided refuge to Black Americans trying to escape racial prejudice. Residents of the once predominantly Black neighborhood were forced to evacuate by 1857 due to the state’s plan to use the site to create Central Park.

Several New York City-based cultural and civic organizations, including the Institute for the Exploration of Seneca Village, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the New York Urban League, worked together to create its “Say Their Names” stop, according to a press release.

“We hope that people will take the time to experience this installation and participate in remembering those whose lives were cut short by hate and racism by reciting the names,” Joy L. Bivins, director of the Schomburg Center, said in a statement. “We hope that these acts will serve to honor their lives and amplify the voices of those who can no longer speak for themselves as we continue to work toward meaningful change.”

The “Say Their Names” memorial display will be accessible in Seneca Village, on West 85th Street in New York City’s Central Park, from Saturday, Sept. 17 until Monday, Oct. 17.

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