Living Memory

Megan Pillow in Guernica:

The first time I saw the Breonna Taylor memorial was on a livestream. It was summer of 2020, and I watched a small team of people at Injustice Square shake out tarps and cover the collection of paintings and signs to protect them from rain. The second time I saw it was in person. I walked around it, noticed the nameplates inscribed with the names of the other Black men and women killed by police encircling its edges. There was one painting of Taylor that was massive, vibrant; a sheen of purple glistened in her hair, and a small jewel glittered in her nose. At its base were poster boards proclaiming “Justice for Bre” and “She was asleep.” Around me, protestors shouted out some of those same lines through their masks.

In Breonna Taylor’s city, which is also my city, protestors have gathered at Injustice Square regularly since May 28, 2020. Beginning just three days after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis, they occupied that small square of land. Through the summer of 2020 and into the fall, they showed up every day—even after another Louisville resident, beloved local chef and entrepreneur David McAtee, was gunned down by the National Guard just days after Floyd’s death and his body left in the street for hours. Every day, even through colder months that saw protest leaders Travis Nagdy and Kris Smith shot down in the street, becoming part of Louisville’s record 173 homicides last year.

After my second visit to the square, I felt haunted by a question I didn’t know how to ask. I worried that the ink on the posters would run in a hard rain, that people’s memories would degrade. Most of all, I was terrified that the police would attack the very people desperately fighting for justice and preserving Taylor’s memory. At a loss, I turned to Google and typed: How do we save everyone, everything?

A more generative question is this: How will we remember 2020? In the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic, as protests against racial injustice and police violence spread across the country, there was more than one Saturday night where I found myself Googling “pandemic archives.” Enraged and lonely and trying to make sense of why some stories are preserved and others are overlooked, I wanted to know what preservation work was already happening and, crucially, who was doing it. I wanted to know what stories and objects they deemed important enough to save, and what strategies, rationales, and systems they were using to capture them. What I found was a range of organizations attempting to chronicle a monumental and disastrous year while it was still underway.

In between a couple of links to archives of the flu pandemic of 1918 and a host of sites banking medical and scientific information about the virus were a number of crowdsourced projects, some localized, some international.

More here.