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Buffalo History Museum, Erie County Library start asking how to preserve history and honor 5/14

A "Sat Their Names" sign among a pile of flowers.
Eileen Elibol
A "Say Their Names" sign is among the many bouquets of flowers at the memorial scene.

The Buffalo History Museum and the Erie County Public Library are gearing up to start to tell the story of May 14 and the shooting on Jefferson Avenue.

The museum wants to know what items left outside the Tops Market store should be saved, and what people could maybe add to a possible future collection. They also expect to discuss when it might be appropriate to develop such an exhibit.

Toward that end, they host a community meeting on Tuesday at 6 PM in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Branch Library at 1324 Jefferson Ave. The program will also be streamed via Zoom.

"We would like to engage the community in a conversation about how we might best document this moment, whether it's in digital format, oral histories, actual items being preserved from the spontaneous memorials site, any of those things," said Melissa Brown, executive director of Buffalo History Museum

Thirteen people were shot, 10 of them fatally, by a gunman who entered the Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue in Buffalo on May 14 and opened fire. Investigators say he traveled from elsewhere in New York State, motivated by racial hatred, and identified his target as being in a predominantly Black neighborhood. Since then, makeshift memorials have sprung up at the site, and several people from the community could offer pictures or oral histories of the day.

"I think one of the things at the history museum we do is ... we're collecting things for the future. I wouldn't say that it's necessarily for an exhibit at this point, but maybe something in the future, it might actually become part of a display," she said on a recent episode of "Buffalo, What's Next?," WBFO's daily discussion of race, segregation and other issues that spring from the Tops shooting.

Brown said in the days immediately after the shooting, they had offers of assistance from similar organizations that had been through mass tragedy, such as the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016. The groups suggested a strategic approach to embrace the community, she said.

Brown says they don’t have an immediate plan on any exhibit, nor do they know if there will ever be one, but they wanted to start the conversation before memories fade and winter weather damages things that people left at the Jefferson Avenue site.

"I think everything around this is very difficult, let alone for people who are directly impacted. But at the same time, we want to try to be a resource to have the conversation. So, if the feedback is, 'We need more time with this', or 'This maybe isn't the right time,' I think that's what we're trying to gauge, but we also don't want the winter to come, and for memorial items left at the site to suffer any impact from that."

The meetings are in conjunction with the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library, and other groups that could possibly mount an exhibit at some point.

Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.
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