The resolution and reconciliation of forces to the ground convey the feeling of stability in architecture, and older buildings derive part of their aesthetic from elegantly exude these forces through massive structural elements like columns and beams. Modern buildings don’t necessarily rely on the structure for their aesthetic, as materials are stronger, thinner, and less massive. We get a sense of existential unease when these steel columns, individually slender but collectively massive, loom overhead, unresolved and unreconciled with the gravitational forces of the earth. And in the context of the memorial, when we consider the columns’ meaning, the unease is profound; the walk in the field is somber and moving.
There are inscriptions that provide the stories behind some of the lynchings: ordinary and everyday acts that ended in unjust death. A minister performing an interracial wedding. A construction worker insisting that a white co-worker return his shovel. Addressing a white police officer without using “Mister.” Getting mistaken for possessing drugs. Going out jogging on the street. Sitting in the car after getting something from the store.
The second half of this catalog of ordinary acts are events in 2020 that led to the killing of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd from the era in which we live. The memorial reminds us, for the task of memorials is to remind, that we are all in a charged field with the weight of these racial injustices looming on us. To ignore them or passively observe another gruesome spectacle is to be complicit. Reconciling and resolving the division and the gap so that someday the overhead forest meets the field, and the unease is lifted, is slow, difficult and painful.
But we are all in the field, each of us.