Ferguson artifacts collected 'in the now' document ongoing struggle

Ferguson artifacts collected 'in the now' document ongoing struggle

FOREST PARK – St. Louis and the world reeled after the death of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014, but the historians at the Missouri History Museum made sure the moment wouldn’t be forgotten.

Five years later, the museum continues to collect items related to the protests in Ferugson. Christopher Gordon, the director of library and collections with the museum, said they currently housed an archives of “tens of thousands” of Ferguson-related artifacts, including not only physical artifacts but also pictures and moving images documenting the protests. 

Gwen Moore, a historian at the museum, said of the artifacts, “We just wanted to show the depth and the breadth of the protest. I specifically wanted to collect things from those grassroots protesters, the people that started it all.”

The artifacts in the collection vary widely. A quilt was created by students at St. Louis Community College-Forest Park to “express their frustration, their trauma, in some cases their anger,” Moore said. There’s a gas mask, and posters that protesters carried with such statements as “Mike is Our Son.” 

Moore said she was most interested in the handmade signs because they came from  “grassroots people who wanted to be involved and were affected by what had happened and wanted to express their feelings.”

The protests in Ferguson mark the first time the Missouri History Museum did any “collecting in the now,” Gordon said.

“Everyone thinks we’re a history museum, we just go out and look for artifacts,” he said. But gathering artifacts as history happens is important work, too. 

Some of the artifacts were previously featured in an exhibition focused on civil rights, though the museum has continued to collect more items since then. Another layer, Moore added, is the collection of oral histories surrounding Ferguson. 

“We interviewed activists who were involved in the struggle,” she explained. “That’s another important part of the collecting initiative, because those stories are critical. We always want to get the story that goes with the item. That brings the item to life. … It’s connected to a person and that person’s story which is usually very powerful, which makes the object powerful.”

Moore and Gordon encourage people to send in physical artifacts, pictures and more. And Moore emphasized that everyone’s story was an important part of the big picture. 

“We still want to be contacted by people who were involved in the struggle or continue to be involved,” she said. “And it is an ongoing struggle, so we’d like people to know that we’re still interested; we’re still collecting; we still want to hear from people.” 

The story of Ferguson, she added, is far from over. 

“Those people they got to the point where they said, ‘We can’t take this any more,’” she said. “They erupted, and we’re still talking about it and will be talking about it for years and years and years to come. It’s just sort of a single moment in this whole struggle. So we think that this is just the beginning of telling the story.”