Activist Rahiel Tesfamariam has donated the Hands Up United T-shirt she wore in August when she was arrested during a protest in Ferguson, Mo., to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Tesfamariam, who lives in New York City, donated the shirt to help the museum tell the story of the current resistance movement. The $540 million Smithsonian museum opens Sept. 24.
The T-shirt’s phrase comes from Tef Poe, Hands Up United co-founder, and it announces a new kind of civil rights struggle, the activist said.
“This looks different; it sounds different. It’s a comment of anger, and his resistance,” Tesfamariam said. “Ferguson and Baltimore specifically showed America a form of nonviolent but militant resistance.”
Curator Timothy Anne Burnside said collecting artifacts like this – especially ones that are visually familiar – is a critical part of the museum’s mission.
“This shirt represents an important moment in the way people are participating in activism, and the way the work is being shared,” said Burnside.
Burnside and other museum curators try to identify objects that focus on the people and moments that will be remembered.
“We have the opportunity now to … preserve the first-hand account of what is happening,” she said. “Not only to have the chance to collect the artifact, and preserve the story, but to have the conversations with the people who we will be talking about in 50 years, 100 years.”
Tesfamariam said Burnside’s knowledge of the slogan’s origins and her interest in the details behind the protest convinced her that she could trust the museum with it.
“The beauty of the shirt, what it demonstrates is that history is being made,” she said. “We’re making history that future generations will look back on.”