y Brad Brooks
(Reuters) – Bettye and Robert Freeman were sitting in their living room in Boston when they heard the screaming outside on the street.
After 51 years of marriage, they went to their stairs without a word. They just left.
When they pushed through the heavy wooden front door, they saw the singing demonstrators. It was June 4, 2020, 10 days after the Minneapolis Police Department murdered George Floyd.
Still quietly the Freemans – self-described “children of the 60s” who are black – solemnly raised their right fists at the same time. The crowd returned the greeting.
Reuters photographer Brian Snyder’s image shows two faces simultaneously awash with pain, pride, sadness and strength.
“It was a torch passage,” said Bettye, a retired attorney whose father was the first black mayor of Montclair, New Jersey, in an interview leading up to the anniversary of Floyd’s death on May 25, 2020. “We marched, we have protested. And maybe part of the sadness is on my face that we still have to do this. “
The Freemans photo was one of the most memorable Reuters images of the protests after Floyd’s death. A year later, Reuters asked test subjects of three strong photos for their thoughts. You spoke of equality, justice and disillusionment.
“The meter hasn’t moved that much,” said Bettye, “and that’s very worrying.”
Bettye, 71, is a former assistant attorney general for civil rights in Massachusetts and dean of law school students at Northeastern University.
Robert is an artist and retired art teacher who lived in Ghana between the ages of 9 and 17, where his father relocated the family from the United States in search of equality. Robert grew up with monuments erected for black leaders and saw faces like his in Ghana’s currency. He got a taste of an empowerment he didn’t feel in America.
75-year-old Robert was walking in Washington as a teenager in 1963 when Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of his dream of equality on the National Mall. Robert felt the climax of a powerful moment, and the deflation as subsequent events made him wonder if anything was going to change.
In 1963, two little black girls died in Birmingham Church, bombed two weeks after the March on Washington. In 2021, it was the January 6th uprising at the Capitol that saw some in the crowd waving the Confederate flag.
“It was a disappointment that highlighted the lack of progress on a racist level,” said Robert.
Bettye noted that the protests following Floyd’s murder occurred during a pandemic, when more people had time to watch the video of his murder and then take to the streets. She fears that in a post-pandemic normalcy, the fire-fueling demand for racial justice will die out. She clings to a cautious optimism.
“But in my life the changes won’t be what I hoped for,” she said.
Two days after the Freemans raised their fists, 16-year-old Bethel Boateng was lying on a thoroughfare in Denver yelling, “I can’t breathe!” Into a megaphone.
The black daughter of Ghanaian immigrants was part of a protest that stopped traffic on the road to the Denver airport, and a picture of her was taken by photographer Kevin Mohatt.
“At that moment, on this day, I felt like I was on top of the world,” said Bethel.
That sense has since given way to the realization that change can last a lifetime, which was felt when the police killings of black Americans continued after Floyd’s death.
On April 11, 20-year-old black driver Daunte Wright was shot dead by a white police officer while in a traffic obstruction in a suburb of Minneapolis. This murder, for which the officer was charged with manslaughter, came during the trial of Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer, who was kneeling on Floyd’s neck during an arrest for an alleged forged $ 20 bill. Chauvin’s trial ended on April 20 with a jury finding him guilty of murder, a rare finding in such a case.
Bethel would like to found an activist club at their high school to deal with racial equality – but also with economic equality and police reform.
“There must be more consequences for the police who kill,” she said.
Aaron Xavier Wilson was just tired.
It was August 28, 2020. The black international relations expert, who works for a non-governmental organization focused on protecting democratic institutions, attended a meeting and felt the need to attend a protest in the Washington Mall. He closed his laptop and got on his bike that Friday afternoon.
The photographer Andrew Kelly captured Wilson with a sign with the Washington Monument in the background. Wilson’s sign, made with a cardboard box and a sharpie, read, “I am a man.”
In 1968, black plumbing workers on strike in Memphis, Tennessee, carried signs with this message when they called for better safety standards and wages. King spoke to strikers the night before he was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, telling them, “We must indulge this fight to the end.”
32-year-old Wilson was thinking of the story as he made his sign.
“I wanted to show that there is continuity in this fight and that the core friction has not been resolved,” he said. “This core issue of our humanity and our worth was still a point of contention.”
Wilson fears that Americans have become so divided – urban liberals, rural conservatives, for example – that they cannot move forward on contentious issues.
When Bettye Freeman is cautiously optimistic, Wilson is tiredly pessimistic.
“We live this way now,” he said, “it prevents us from having the kind of conversations we need to build empathy and understanding.”
(Reporting and writing by Brad Brooks; editing by Donna Bryson and Cynthia Osterman)
Mr. Easley is the Founder / Senior Editor, White House Press Pool, and a Congressional Correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a bachelor’s degree in political science. His thesis focused on public order with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and professional memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Political Science Association