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Preserving History in the Making
Artifacts from the George Floyd Protests for Racial Justice
History Colorado's curatorial and collections teams immediately began documenting the protests for racial justice during the summer of 2020.
When the anger surrounding George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis by police officer Derek Chauvin sparked protests around the nation, Coloradans joined their fellow Americans in calling for racial justice. At History Colorado, our curators and collections staff responded quickly to this history in the making, going out to the protests to preserve artifacts and invite members of the public to share their experience.
These photos show a small portion of the artifacts and images collected from the protests in and around Capitol Hill in Denver between the night of May 28 and June 6. They tell a story not just of a year passed, but of a story still in progress that we all must account for. By documenting the otherwise ephemeral items that defined the protests, we hope those who come after us will be able to draw upon them for insights into this moment in our shared history—and what comes next.
“All Lives Can’t Matter Until Black Lives Matter!”
This sign’s colorful writing clearly conveys its message despite a crumpled foam core base, the ink and marker running and staining down its surface. It was used near Lincoln and Twelfth in Denver during the first nights of protests sparked by George Floyd’s death in late May. The message is a play on the slogans “All Lives Matter” and “Black Lives Matter” that have become prevalent in political discourse and activism across the country.
Black Lives Matter protester’s bicycle helmet and safety goggles set
This set of makeshift protective gear was left by a protester the night of May 31 in the Capitol Hill area of Denver. The gear was used as very basic protection against various projectiles used by police, like gas canisters and pellets. The orange tape, applied in the shape of a cross, likely indicates that the helmet was worn by a self-appointed medic during the protests. History Colorado staff collected the items just a few blocks from the central museum.
CTS Model 5210 Jet-Lite Smoke Grenade
Police used this white smoke grenade canister on the State Capitol grounds to forcefully disperse protesters in and around the Civic Center on the night of May 31. White smoke grenades are just one of multiple types of gas or pepper spray commonly used by police departments across the country as part of increasingly militarized responses to protests.
A group of protesters verbally confront police officers near the Civic Center Park RTD station, May 30, 2020. Photographs from community members at the protests document their experiences. The images shared by Benn Stebleton, such as this one, chronicle many facets of the summer 2020 protests in Denver as they grew in the days immediately after the death of George Floyd, including the diverse array of protesters and what they brought with them. Police presence at the protests, and their response, is also documented. Credit: Benn Stebleton.
“Black Lives Matter/Black Smiles Matter/Black Hopes & Dreams Matter/Elijah McClain Was A Treasure.” This large banner was originally crafted and displayed by the owner of the StoryBrick Salon at her storefront in Denver. The banner was originally displayed on Father’s Day in 2020, with another message honoring George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement; it was edited to encourage conversation about Denver’s own need for change surrounding the death of Elijah McClain shortly after his encounter with Aurora police in 2019. The original message read, “Black Lives Matter/Black Fathers Matter/Black LGBTQ Fathers Matter/George Floyd Was A Father.”
Benn Stebleton, who participated in the protests in Denver, captured this image of a designated medic in front of the State Capitol building.
U.S. Democracy/Rose of the Revolution
“'U.S. Democracy/Rose of the Revolution' focuses on past and present racism and sexism against Black, Latino, Asian, and Indigenous people in the U.S. Tanguma’s artwork reflects people experiencing brutality, hate, and inequality inflicted upon them by people of power who justify their actions despite the claim of Democracy….The tragic death of George Floyd has inspired America to begin a revolution of change and hope. People of all colors come together in the beautiful rose of hope and justice.” —Leticia Darlina Tanguma