by JESSICA HOLLAN
I found myself in a room surrounded by death. I stared up, overwhelmed by the floor to ceiling newspaper headlines. Plastered below each eye-catching slogan were pictures of the Twin Towers encased in smoke. “Bastards!” on San Francisco’s The Examiner was written in long, bold type and I continuously found myself drawn to that startlingly titled page, whose headline rested atop a photo of the World Trade Center ablaze from the impact.
Towering over the inhabitants of the room is a mangled piece of the antenna that once sat upon the World Trade Center North Tower, and beneath the imposing piece of mangled metal was a photo of a man mid-fall. He had jumped off of the top of where this artifact once stood, and was plummeting to his death, like so many trapped on the top floors of the World Trade Center did. Frozen in film for all of eternity you can see the dark color of his suit, an eerie contrast against the bright blue sky behind him. I had never been engulfed in such raw and emotional pieces of journalism all in one place, surrounded by death I was amazed and overwhelmed.
I was encompassed by the first amendment at every turn, every square inch of Washington, D.C.’s Newseum drenched me in hard hitting exposes of our country, whether gruesome or glorious. I walked all six floors completely saturated with emotion but beaming with pride. These journalists had all worked hard to change the narrative, to help shape our nation into the best version of herself. While my heart ached for the breath-taking display of September 11, 2001, nothing will ever surpass the tidal wave of passion I felt viewing the “1968: Civil Rights at 50” display. While overwhelmed with sadness and ache for the lives lost in 9/11, I was utterly transfixed by the emotional and inspiring narrative produced by this smaller display.
Showcased only for this year, “1968: Civil Rights at 50” has a film that plays immediately as you enter the exhibit. This film depicts the progression of the Civil Rights Movement, beginning with the first National Anthem protest on a national stage. Olympic track medalists Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black gloved hands in protest of the lynchings and poverty that African-Americans were tormented with while the National Anthem blared from Olympic stage speakers.
Smith and Carlos had planned to medal specifically so they could draw attention to the inequality African-Americans faced on a national stage where they could not be ignored. This movement sparked great controversy and both men were blacklisted from the Olympics because of it. The film draws an allusion to the Black Lives Matter movement and Colin Kaepernick’s protest of the National Anthem on a national stage during professional football games. Much like Smith and Carlos, Kaepernick was also punished for protesting during his sporting event.
During the film NFL member Michael Bennett voice overs footage comparing Smith and Carlos’s protest to Kaepernick’s. Bennet explains that African-American athletes have always been forced to use their talent in sports as their platform for change. If they were to speak out anywhere else nobody would listen to them, because the American public only cares about them when they were winning a sport. The only way for them to be heard is to speak when they were certain people were paying attention, which is only when it benefited them to be watching.
This stuck a chord that resonated in me, these athletes risked everything they had worked toward in hopes that they could change the fate of their communities. They valued something much greater than just themselves. The Newseum as a whole is filled to the brim with people who risked everything just to inspire change. Every exhibit is a testament to the people who have risked their lives, their careers, and their freedom to tell the public what they needed to hear.
Emblazoned into one of the walls of the Newseum is a quote by author George Orwell: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” This beautiful, incredible, thought-provoking museum reminds us that above all else we must speak the truth- no matter how much our voice may shake.