The Say Their Names memorial inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement will return to Otsego County in September with a display in Cooperstown.
Cooperstown’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved the memorial Monday, Aug. 24, at its monthly meeting, provided the organizer can find a location on village property to place it, or get approval from a leaser of land to the village, and ensure that the unveiling of the display is done in accordance with village and state laws about social distancing and crowd size during the coronavirus pandemic.
In a follow-up interview Tuesday, organizer Jennifer Dibble said she does not believe the village’s restrictions will be an issue. Her plan is to use a section of fencing outside Doubleday Field on Bud Fowler Drive, although village officials said Monday part of that fence is on land owned by the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and leased to Cooperstown.
Dibble, who is a buyer for the Hall’s gift shop, said the display will mirror the one in Oneonta, which was on display for three weeks this summer on Main Street.
“I know the people who did the one in Oneonta, but I had never heard about the memorial until they brought it here,” Dibble said. “It turns out it is a national program. It has been on display in at least 30 major cities, in addition to ones in small places like Oneonta or Cooperstown.
“I consider myself to be a pretty open person, but when I saw the memorial in Oneonta, I was shocked,” she continued, “and then after looking at it for a few minutes, then that feeling turned to sadness. I was just taking pictures of all the faces so I could look up their stories later.”
Dibble said when she did read the stories, she realized that although the memorial was inspired by the recent deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor — Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes in June; Taylor was shot to death while Louisville police officers were executing a “no knock” warrant on the wrong location in March — many of the faces on the wall died in circumstances that did not involve the police, but were still tied to their skin color or race.
“Breonna Taylor is on the wall and George Floyd is on the wall, but there are 200 more people there that we might not have heard about,” she said.
“It is a huge education moment,” she continued. “Something as simple as putting photos up can change the way we view things.”
Dibble said she saw the memorial in Oneonta being misconstrued as a protest against police officers, but she does not view it that way. She said the images include Malcolm X, Martin Luther King and a large number of children. It also includes several Black police officers who died in the line of duty, she said.
“One of the things about the memorial is each community adds their own stories and faces to the wall, such as Jason Walker who was an Oneonta High School graduate,” she said. Walker, a 22-year-old Oneonta resident was stabbed to death in 2005 by 20-year-old Francis J. Ricca during a party on Chestnut Street. Ricca was tried for murder but acquitted on a self-defense plea.
As a baseball buff, Dibble said she has been researching Negro League players and plans to include several baseball players in the Cooperstown display.
“It is the 100th anniversary of Doubleday Field and also the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues, so I did some research into Negro League players who died under similar circumstances to other people in the memorial,” she said.
One story she discovered is about Porter Moss, a three-time all-star who played with the Cincinnati Tigers and the Memphis Red Sox. Moss was shot to death on a train in 1944 at age 34. He was in a segregated rail car, and while he lay dying, the train conductor tried to find a doctor to help save Moss’s life, Dibble said.
“The doctors refused to help, because they did not want to enter the all-Black area on the train,” she said.
A Cooperstown Central School graduate, Dibble said the memorial and the BLM protests are personal to her. Her two sons are biracial and she said she worries for their safety.
“I grew up in Cooperstown,” she said, “that’s why I laugh when people say there is no racism here. I have seen it.”
Still, she said she is moved by the community that has stood up for Black lives this summer, including her neighbors in the area and many of her former classmates. Her goal in bringing the memorial to the village isn’t to denigrate anyone, but is to honor people whose lives were lost needlessly and, perhaps, to changes the hearts and minds of people who might not think racism is a problem in society.
“If you can change the mind of one person in a group, then that is a good day,” she said.
A debut for the memorial is not yet set, but Dibble said she is looking at Saturday, Sept. 19. The village has approved the display through Dec. 1, or until the weather makes it impossible to keep the display in good shape.