BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — When students decades from now pass through the Buffalo History Museum, what will represent May 14, 2022?

“That’s the conversation we need to have,” said Garnell Whitfield, who lost his mother, Ruth, in the attack. “5/14 didn’t just happen. It’s been in the making for hundreds of years.”

What artifacts will sit enclosed in glass? Whose recorded voice will recount the earth-shattering pain? What documents will share America’s systemic issues with race?

It’s a day that will forever be seared in the history of Buffalo, New York.

“I want her to be remembered in death as the impetus for change that we are working for,” Whitfield said.

Whitfield says the history behind what led to the murder of 10 innocent people needs to be documented. As do the memorial items left at tops in the months that followed. And the stories of those lost and traumatized.

“It’s important work,” Whitfield added. “I mean, one of the problems with where we are today in our society is our history has not been preserved. Our history has been told by others, if at all. And so, I think it’s important we start preserving our history and being the authors of our own narrative.”

The Buffalo History Museum’s Resource Center is on Forest Avenue, a mile away from the cherry blossoms and marble columns. That’s where memorial items with the names and images of those lost rest safely. Artifacts placed at the scene with messages of hope and change were saved from the destruction of Buffalo’s winter.

Melissa Brown is the museum’s executive director.

“I can sit here and tell you I don’t have all the answers for how this collection is going to take shape in our community,” Brown said.

But, with the help of the victim’s families and community stakeholders, the museum is looking for solutions.

“We’re growing our partnership base,” Brown said, “because the first part is ensuring there’s a record. And then, the way you and I interpret something might be very different from the way a historian looks back on this event 60 years from now. We just want to make sure that there’s an authenticity to the record, that there’s a fullness to the record.”

Brown meets with the victim’s families monthly to discuss preservation progress. She says a key piece of documenting May 14 goes beyond the preserved memorial pinwheels and signs.

“There is a call to action,” said Brown. “A call to communicating, what is racism? What is the history in our community? What is the history of segregation that has impacted this community for generations? And there is a universal agreement that those stories need to be discussed. This is one piece of a greater story that didn’t just start that day.”

The Buffalo and Erie County Public Library is working to help record the spoken history of community members this fall.

“It’s going to be a very difficult time for the community and especially for the families of the victims,” said Dorinda Darden of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library. “And I just want them to know that we’re going to do our best to make sure their stories are told.”

So, will there be an exhibit? Melissa Brown says that answer is being worked out.

For the time being, her focus is on making sure the complex history of May 14 is saved.

“The exhibit that I want to see is people doing differently, treating us with respect,” said Whitfield. “That’s the exhibit that’s needed. America needs to own up to its history, to its past, acknowledge our contribution to this nation, to this world, and do differently going forward.”

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Patrick Ryan is an award-winning reporter who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here and follow him on Twitter.

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