Say Their Names memorial restored by community within hours of vandalism

Community members restore the Say Their Names memorial along the fence by Railroad Park on Wednesday afternoon. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news
January 25, 2023

Dozens turn out on short notice to return T-shirts to fence by Ashland’s Railroad Park

By Holly Dillemuth, Ashland.news

Following an act of vandalism to the Say Their Names memorial along the fence line at Railroad Park in Ashland in between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning, residents came together Wednesday afternoon to restore what had been taken down and renew the community spirit surrounding the T-shirts, which bear the names of Black men, women and children who have died because of white supremacy and systemic racism.

Cassie Preskenis at the Say Their Names memorial on Wednesday. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

Cassie Preskenis was part of a group, including Councilor Gina DuQuenne, behind hanging the T-shirts back on the fence after they’d been found torn down Wednesday morning. Preskenis and several other individuals took the T-shirts off-site, washed them, and brought them back to the park and distributed them among an estimated 60 to 70 attendees, who lovingly placed them, freshly washed, back on the fence. 

In June 2020, Ashland residents first placed the 170 shirts on the fence line “in recognition of the passing of Oregon’s Lash Laws, and in the aftermath of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” according to the website of BASE Southern Oregon (Black Alliance & Social Empowerment). The “Lash Law,” which was repealed in 1845, mandated that Blacks who refused to leave Oregon be lashed. 

Community members, including Dr. Geneva Craig, in red, put memorial T-shirts back up on the fence by Railroad Park. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

“All of the shirts had been taken down off of the fence and were all lying on the ground,” Preskenis said. “It’s really important, I think, to take these opportunities to confront that there is racism in Ashland and this is a hate crime here in Ashland.”

Preskenis, a member of the Public Arts Commission, emphasized her role in the restoration as a community member, not as an arts commission member, though she said she joined the commission following a previous vandalism of the memorial in August 2020. 

“It’s a horrible event that leads to this beautiful opportunity to tend to the fence,” she said.

Barbara Denempont, who has lived in Ashland 20 years, was among those tending to the fence. She said she noticed many of the T-shirts had been cut from the fence, and noted it appears as if it would take someone took hours to cut and tear the shirts down.

“It has such importance and such meaning,” Denempont said. “To have somebody come and destroy it is absolutely heartbreaking to me.”

Jessica Freedman walks with Mackie, 2, along the Say Their Names memorial fence after T-shirts were put back up Wednesday afternoon. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

Farther down the fenceline, D.L. Richardson was among the dozens placing shirts back in place on the chain link fence, which sits right next to a bicycle path. Richardson serves the Southern Oregon Education Service District as a Southern Oregon Black/African American Success Specialist. (And is also a board member of Ashland.news.)

He said he wasn’t surprised by the vandalism because it had occurred before.

Richardson said there are still those who exist who prefer to do more harm than good.

Asked if the act was seen as an act of racism, Richardson said it’s hard to know at this stage.

“We don’t have cameras, we don’t know,” Richardson said. “Was it based off of racism, was it based off of some mental concerns, mental issues?”

“Regardless, we have to make sure that we counteract,” he added. “We’re not going to get shut down because one thing happened… .We just keep fighting.”

Richardson said the gathering acted as an opportunity for many to come together, much like a funeral, but with a message of, “Not in our town.”

Ashland Mayor Julie Akins, facing camera, takes a break from rehanging T-shirts to get a hug. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

Nearby, Geneva Craig, who marched with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Alabama, hung up a T-shirt depicting the events of Bloody Sunday on the front of it — apt because it is an event that she experienced personally.

She spoke to Ashland.news, with a message for whomever committed the vandalism act.

“You were not successful,” Craig said. “What you ended up doing was bringing a whole lot of people together who are strangers to really undo, in a sense, the damage you thought you were creating.”

Gesturing toward the dozens of area residents who pinned T-shirts nearby, Craig noted, “Look at all these people here … all ages, all races — we’re here. And evil, it just cannot reign. It just can’t. We got love here, honey.”

“We’re here to do something to show that we do care about this,” she added. “We’re here to rebuild.”

The Ashland Police Department is asking anyone with information about the incident or about who could be responsible to contact the department by phone at 541-482-5211, or call the anonymous tip line at 541-552-2333, or send an email to tipline@ashland.or.us.

Reach Ashland.news reporter Holly Dillemuth at hollyd@ashland.news.

Feb. 5 update: First sentence changed to more accurately reflect why the T-shirts were placed on the fence.

A few of the shirts that were put back up on the fence. Drew Fleming photo for Ashland.news

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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