‘Say Their Names’ cemetery memorializes Black lives lost to police brutality

The art installation in South Minneapolis has over a hundred headstones made of cardboard, plastic and paper with the names of Black people killed by police.

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Jasmin Kemp

“Say Their Names" cemetery in South Minneapolis represents a person killed by law enforcement in this country. Created by two University of Pennsylvania students, it’s a grassroots art installation located just blocks away from the George Floyd Memorial in Minneapolis on Thursday, June 12.

Meg Bishop

We hear their names — George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner – but artists Connor Wright and Anna Barber want people to know all of their names. The two are the co-creators of the “Say Their Names” art installation in South Minneapolis. The symbolic cemetery can be found on East 37th Street, one block north of the George Floyd memorial.

“These gravestones honor 100 of the innumerable Black lives cut short by police brutality,” Wright said. 

The cemetery originally included 100 names, but creators added more names after receiving requests from the community. The installation was designed and constructed in one full day with the help of volunteers and local art and flower shops, like Lake Harriet Florist. Minneapolis’ UPS helped to print the names on paper for the majority of the headstones. Volunteers used simple materials like cardboard, plastic and paper to create each headstone.

None of the 15 volunteers previously knew each other when they all showed up to help. Each person was recruited by a friend of a friend who somehow knew Wright or Barber.

Maria Lange, a second-year student at the University of Minnesota, volunteered because of her background in art and to help memorialize Black lives lost at the hands of police. 

She had been out protesting almost every day after the death of George Floyd. “I’ve been out there and I was getting burnt out, so I was like it’s good to take a step back and do something a little less active,” Lange said. 

At first, Lange didn’t want to miss out on marches to help create the installation. “I honestly felt kind of bad. I was like, well, I’m going to miss a couple marches for this,” Lange said. “Then all of a sudden, this did more than I ever thought it was going to do.”

Her favorite thing about helping set up was getting to hang out with the neighborhood kids running around the installation. “We wanted to make it so that kids were helping with the setup and the flowers,” Lange said. She wanted the kids to have as much of a part in creating the installation as the community. 

Bea Buckley, a second-year student at Trinity College in Dublin and Minnesota native, also found herself asked to help with the installation’s set up through a friend. 

“We made the whole thing in like four or five hours and then went straight to the site and installed it all in one go,” Buckley said. “The point was to get it up before the big 10K march later that day.” The cemetery was built on Friday, June 5, the same day as the march.

Buckley didn’t fully process the significance of what was created until community members began interacting with the headstones. “The first woman that walked through it with us just started sobbing. That to me was like – I was speechless,” Buckley said. 

Organizers held a candlelight vigil at the cemetery on June 7, where the community came together to mourn the Black lives lost to police violence. 

The team of creators are currently working with community organizers to try and find a way for the cemetery to be a permanent site.