Love and Black Lives, in Pictures Found on a Brooklyn Street
I saw this NYT article while scrolling down Twitter and I found it particularly interesting. It is a story of a photo collection found by chance, revealing so much about memory and black history in Brooklyn. Given that I use photos in my thesis to highlight what public commemorative works do not, I was ecstatic. This story unraveling from one woman’s photo book aligned so perfectly with my thesis, which tells of many black people who resided in Brooklyn, who moved up from either the South or the West Indies, who faced housing discrimination, who saw drastic changes in their neighbors within a 20 year span as a result of white flight, and much more.
Another exciting piece on this article is its mention of silence. Though short enough to skip over it, its presence in the article meant a lot to me as someone chronicling this very idea of silence as an essence in itself worthy of memorialization. Though implicitly written all over a story of a discarded photo collection “beneath a streetlamp on Lincoln Place” holding so much memory within its wooden cover, the actual mention of this silence felt too good to be true:
The Burtons remembered a niece from North Carolina, and the researcher found someone in Raleigh named Joann Barnes. She was now in her 70s. For months, the only other thing I knew about her was that she didn’t pick up her phone.
I didn’t blame her. “Hello,” I would say when I left voice mail messages, “I’m calling about a photo album that may have belonged to your family.” Even as I said it, I knew it sounded like a scam.
I tried her relatives, calling, sending emails and friendly Facebook messages, but always with the same result: silence.
Something about this silence does not feel coincidental. It mirrors the negotiation of lives, often exploited for others’ gain. It oozes a genealogy of silence, as “children were taught then to neither see, hear nor talk about the affairs in which grown ups were concerned.” (A Covenant of Color 69) A silence that transforms into wariness and skepticism come adulthood. A silence that wasn’t breached until the reporter showed up at the front door of Joann Barnes’ retirement complex.
This article definitely makes me happy. It convinces me that I am using a useful methodology and even feels like someone did a spotlight on any given family from my research. Feel great to be in such good company!