The Say Their Names – No More Names exhibition opens at Stanford Libraries
Organized by library staff in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, the exhibition offers opportunities for learning, reflection and discussion.
A new online and in-person art exhibit hosted by Stanford Libraries highlights 65 Black Americans who have been killed or impacted by police brutality and systemic racism.
Say Their Names – No More Names is available for everyone to view online, but the physical exhibition in the Cecil H. Green Library is restricted to authorized Stanford ID cardholders due to COVID-19. The physical exhibition includes names affixed to glass panels in the Bing Wing as well as banners throughout the first floor that contain the names and faces of those featured. Meanwhile, the online exhibit displays the images and individual stories of victims, including Emmett Till, Kalief Browder, Salecia Johnson and Bettie Jones; it also calls attention to events like the Tulsa riots, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment and the Chicago Police Department Midnight Crew.
To commemorate the exhibit’s opening, a large banner featuring the words “Know Justice Know Peace” was unfurled Friday across the front of Green Library during an online livestream event. “Before we as a society can ‘Know Justice’ we must interrogate the injustices and right the wrongs of society, and only then will we ‘Know Peace,’” said Felicia Smith, the Stanford librarian leading learning and outreach programs and the creator of the exhibit.
Say Their Names – No More Names is a follow up to a statement of solidarity and support against systemic racism published by Stanford Libraries over the summer. “Making this statement reaffirming our commitment to racial justice, equity and diversity were extremely important to us. We feel compelled for the Stanford Libraries to engage directly with recent events,” said Michael Keller, vice provost and university librarian. “The Say Their Names exhibit is just one of the great ideas proposed by library staff, so I am pleased with the team effort mounting this first exhibition in a timely fashion relative to the rise of Black Lives Matter protests and the atrocities against Black Americans that extend back to the founding of this nation.”
The exhibit, Keller explains, is similar to previous exhibits the Libraries has hosted, in that its display is meant to inspire discussions, raise questions and stimulate research. “The striking difference with this exhibit is the potential impact viewers can have on making real changes in our society,” said Keller.
The concept for the exhibit was developed by Smith, who has published articles promoting racial literacy as well as feature stories that explore various narratives of people of color. She says Say Their Names – No More Names was her response to the anguish she felt following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. “The speed at which victim’s names turned into hashtags or their deaths into viral videos alarmed me,” Smith said. “I feared we would become numb as a society. Having to look into their eyes as you read their stories humanizes the headlines. That was the driving motivation of this exhibition.”
Smith notes while the exhibit is designed to serve as a “forget me not” memorial honoring their lives, it is also meant to be informative, likely sharing stories unfamiliar to many. The people featured in Say Their Names – No More Names are young, old, transgender and straight, and some struggled with mental health issues or other challenges. “This exhibit aspires to also make unknown victims known,” said Smith.
The online version of Say Their Names – No More Names joins more than a dozen other virtual exhibits created by the Libraries around the topic of social justice, ranging from Queer at Stanford to the Chinese Railroad Workers, to oral histories from survivors of the 1947 Partition of India and Pakistan, and photo documentaries such as the Bob Fitch and David Bacon Archives.
In addition to Say Their Names – No More Names, Stanford Libraries has pulled together a team of internal staff, scholars and community members to work on a Systemic Racism Tracker, a searchable online database. The goal of the Systemic Racism Tracker will be to enable users to discover information – including government records, scholarly studies and community reports – about threats to people of African descent and others in the United States that have been shaped by the policies and practices of institutions across decades. It will also help people take action against these threats by knowing their rights and finding, evaluating and connecting with government agencies and community groups that address systemic racism.
“While these two projects were sparked in response to recent events, there are several more that have been underway for decades. As long as our ability to acquire materials and archives continues, so too will our efforts to build rich and diverse research and teaching collections,” said Keller. “As a library system, it is part of our core values to always strive to be better, and do more in building research collections that include, represent and preserve all perspectives, including those from underrepresented communities, so that scholars, students, public policy figures and ordinary citizens might learn, debate and ultimately take corrective action through peaceful means.”