Activists rush to preserve artifacts of the modern civil rights movement

National News

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – As protests over the police killing of George Floyd spread internationally, Black Lives Matter art as well as murals and graffiti by protesters and professional artists began popping up.

While this art tells a story of pain and resistance as well as showcase the largest civil rights movement in U.S. history, in some cases, the art has already been destroyed or taken down.

A Lansing mural commemorating the life of George Floyd was vandalized in early July.

A Black Lives Matter painting calling for an end to racism was vandalized in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

A painting outside Trump Tower in New York City was defaced with buckets of black paint as the vandals shouted “all lives matter”

A 140-foot colorful mural in Spokane, Washington was vandalized with splashes of white paint.

George Floyd has become nationally recognized as the man whose death inspired uprisings and protests over racial injustice in all 50 states and countries abroad including the United Kingdom, Korea, Australia, Brazil, and Syria.

Floyd was 46 years old when he was killed by 44-year-old Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin May 25. Chauvin pressed his knee onto Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd pleaded for air, saying “I can’t breathe.”

Minneapolis native and activist Kenda Zeller-Smith tried to avoid the images.

“I don’t really watch those videos anymore only because I feel like they are very detrimental to my mental health and my emotional well-being,” she told ABC News.

Activist Leesa Kelly, who has been working with Zellner-Smith on the “save the boards” effort, Floyd’s killing was “a really intense, and a really devastating experience.”

But a few days later as Zellner-Smith drove to work, a piece of new protest art caught her eye and the emotions it elicited allowed her to experience a “really powerful” and “uplifting” moment.

When Zellner-Smith got to work and shared her experience, one of her co-workers mentioned that she noticed that some new Black Lives Matter art created amid the protests had already been taken down.

Kelly launched her own project, “Memorialize the Movement,” and has since connected with Zellner-Smith to join efforts in saving the art.

Over the past couple of months, Zellner-Smith has been working with other activists to track down artists and convince businesses to donate the art instead of getting rid of it. She has been picking up the plywood art in a truck and has so far, collected more than 40 pieces in a warehouse. Zellner-Smith hopes to find a home for the pieces – one that would keep them in Minneapolis and accessible to the city’s Black community.

Kelly said that she felt it was critical for history to be recorded and documented through these murals for people to be able to visualize what had happened, and thus gain a deeper and better understanding of these historically significant demonstrations against systemic racism.

Zellner-Smith and Kelly’s long-term plans for the plywood murals is still in the works. They, alongside several other organizations, and activists across Minneapolis, are working to find a long-term solution to exhibit and preserve the art permanently.

“This is something we’re still facing every single day. And so we need to tell that story in a way that makes people understand that this is an ongoing issue, and it needs a solution,” Kelly said.

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