Smithsonian museums collecting White House protest signs to preserve slice of history

Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post via Getty ImagesBy BEN GITTLESON, ABC News(WASHINGTON) — Several museums moved to preserve a slice of history in Washington on Wednesday by taking steps to keep some of the signs protesters strung along a fence near the White House after the death of George Floyd.After the National Park Service announced that the fence surrounding Lafayette Square, just north of the White House, would be removed on Wednesday, protesters moved a majority of the signs and posters that were on that fence across the street and taped them on construction walls.The fencing blocking Lafayette Park remained up late Wednesday, though, as demonstrators — including Floyd’s brother Philonise Floyd and attorney Ben Crump — marched through Black Lives Matter Plaza, a recently renamed intersection next to the park that has become a center of protest.”We are telling the American story from the African American experience,” Dwandalyn Reece, a curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who spent hours reading signs and speaking with protesters, told ABC News. “We recognize the historical significance, we recognize the mood of the country, and it’s very important to capture that.”Reece was one of several curators from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Museum of American History and the Anacostia Community Museum — all part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington — who walked down Black Lives Matter Plaza on Wednesday to speak to protesters about their stories and start the process of preserving posters and other protest-related items.To capture the whole story, curators are now having conversations with the protesters and looking at what has been posted on the protest signs to get a sense of the stories they plan to tell.”It goes way beyond the placards and signs,” Reece, an associate director for curatorial affairs, said. “We’re going to look at it from a really human perspective, as well as historical, and it’s going to have reverberations for years to come.”Due to COVID-19, the collecting process may take longer than usual, according to Reece. To determine what memorabilia they will keep, each museum will talk to potential donors about people who have an interest in seeing the items preserved — with the stories that the items tell — for generations to come.Though the project is still in its early stages, the collection of items will be used for exhibitions, publications, research, educational programs and digital platforms in the near future.Copyright © 2020, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.