This year, on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Richmond Public Library is proud to host an educational exhibit made available by the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. This exhibition recounts the events of September 11, 2001, through the personal stories of those who witnessed and survived the attacks. Told across 14 posters, this exhibition includes archival photographs and images of artifacts from the museum’s permanent collection. It explores the consequences of terrorism on individual lives and communities at the local, national, and international levels, and encourages critical thinking about the legacies of 9/11.
Twenty years after the attacks, with terrorism still a threat today, the events of 9/11 and their aftermath remind us that we may never be able to prevent all the actions of people intent on harming others, but we do have control over how we respond to suchevents. Whether by volunteering in our local communities, serving our nation in the military, caring for the sick, or through other efforts, all of us can help build a better world in which we want to live. As we witness history unfolding in our own time, the ways in which we choose to respond—both large and small—can demonstrate the best of human nature after even the worst of days.
This 9/11 Memorial & Museum curated exhibition reflects the core pillars of commemoration, education, and inspiration as we prepare to observe the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The exhibit is located in our Main Library on the 2nd floor in the hallway leading to the adminstrative offices. We hope you will take the time to stop by and explore it.
As a supplement to the exhibit, a few of our RPL staff members have shared their own memories of September 11, 2001, as well as how they plan to remember and honor the events that happened that day.
Alfreda, North Avenue Branch
How will I remember 9/11? By starting and finishing my day as normal.
20 years ago on September 11th, I was working in a library in downtown DC (Foggy Bottom) blocks from the White House. I’d started work early and was loose-leaf filing in a far corner. I didn’t notice when the other staffers came in or disappeared. By the time a librarian came to warn that we might have to evacuate the building, the final tower had been down for a half an hour or so. So for well over an hour, it was just another day for me. If she hadn’t found me I could have had half of a normal work day.
After she told me a few times what had happened (I couldn’t fully grasp it and she was struggling), she suggested that I try to get home. The “try” scared me. The Metro might be shutting down, she said, and traffic might get crazy with folks trying to get home. I don’t think I knew that the Pentagon was in flames just over the bridge in Virginia. I walked out of the building and walked to K Street and—to this day—I’ve never seen so many people walking around so quietly and calmly. People were barely talking. The streets weren’t full of cars yet. I think folks were worried about attacks on bridges. I didn’t get on the Metro for a while because I didn’t want to be underground during an attack. So I walked. So did a lot of other people and I felt safe. We all kind of walked around while being aware of the sirens and big trucks that were speeding around toward the White House and other important buildings. Then I got on the Metro, got home, and immediately went to sleep. It was probably 2:30-3:00 pm. I didn’t watch the news until the next morning.
How will I remember 9/11? I want my day back. My normal day—September 11. And every year, I take it back. It’s just another day. I’ve visited the Twin Towers sites in NYC when they were still holes in the ground (2006-08?) and after the rebuild. I still love seeing the restored Pentagon everytime I take the bus from DC to Richmond. But I don’t visit either spot on Sept 11th. Why would I?
Mara, West End Branch
This day happened when I was working as a secretary in an elementary school in Gahanna, OH. During the first break teachers were in shock. They were organizing their classes and coming to grips with what happened. All staff did what they could. I was put on break duty outside. The sky was cloudless, a perfect shade of blue. It didn’t jive with what I had seen on TV, but then two Air Force jets flew over and I felt scared.
How will I honor this memory? Simply by never forgetting.
Ben, Main Library
A television set rolled into the 7th grade classroom where Ms. Dumont was teaching us Russian. There were scenes of the World Trade Center and Pentagon on CNN. No explanations or guidance from adults were given—they were all seemingly as confused as we were. We were sent home early; both my parents were home. We watched TV together all afternoon and evening. There was just a lot of “this is what happened,” without any “why” or “how” or “who.”
9/11 remains a touchstone for my awareness of the place the US occupies in world affairs. Understanding why it happened led me to the belief that we ignore or selectively remember our history of intervention at our own peril. Seeing how political leaders chose to respond to 9/11 made me a skeptic of US interventions (overt and clandestine) in other countries and, as Watergate did for another generation, made me far less trusting of the official or dominant narratives coming from those with power. These days, I think less of the violence and tragedy of the day itself and more about all of the same that followed from it.
Tori, Westover Hills Branch
9/11 is a day (one that became days and then weeks), I will never forget. I had the opportunity to go to the 9/11 Memorial in NYC in 2018. It was difficult. I felt it was important to let myself feel all the emotion and memories as I walked through the museum with my husband. Like so many, I was directly and indirectly affected by the events of 9/11/2001. It was very quiet through most of the museum, and I remember the tears falling down my face and seeing others raw with the emotion of it. We all just silently acknowledged each other. 9/11 was a shared experience, a trauma, unlike any I had experienced before. I remembered thinking then, while visiting the museum, that it was important to never forget that day or the people whose lives were lost. We owed them more than a moment of silence.
I recently visited NY again with my family, including my two children. The 9/11 Memorial was not on our list of tourist attractions during our two-day visit. However, while crossing the Staten Island Ferry and seeing the Statue of Liberty and what she has come to symbolize for our nation, I told my husband we needed to go there and show the children Ground Zero. We went and had a long talk with the kids about what had happened there. What the names on the memorial represented. We showed them Youtube videos of what happened. My son, the 10 year-old, had so many questions—Were children killed? Why would someone do that? How do we make sure it doesn’t happen again? As parents, we often try to shield our children from the bad and ugly, but I am so glad we made the trek on foot and talked to them and made sure they knew about it. It is said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it, they say.
To young people, students all over, even those finishing college this year—9/11 is a historic event they read about or hear about but did not experience. It could easily became a tale you vaguely recall from history class. I don’t want that. It is something we must remember—all of it…the way our nation was broken in an instant and rebuilt over time…the lives lost needlessly, the lives lost selflessly, and those who are still here. I will never forget and I think it is important to continue to the memory of the people and the event every year. When my children are older, I will return to the museum with them and walk with them through it, and when they see my tears and the tears of others, I hope they will understand.
Adam, East End Branch
I was in college when 9/11 happened, and had just moved to West Virginia from the Midwest. I was old enough that I knew something of the world, but young enough that I can say that 9/11 has shaped almost my entire adult life.
My family is a big, international group. I have immediate family from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Germany, and Norway, and I was raised to embrace other cultures. In the fall of 2001, I’d gotten a job at a hotel which had a prestigious restaurant attached to it; some of the staff working there were internationally trained, and some of my coworkers were from Algeria and the Sudan. On the evening of September 11th, I was working at the hotel. We were still reeling from the confusion and sadness and emotion of the day, and everything felt a bit chaotic. The hotel is relatively close to Washington DC, and at that time of year, the hotel and restaurant were always busy; because of that morning’s events, though, everything was quiet and there were hardly any guests in the hotel, and even fewer diners in the restaurant.
The main building that housed the front desk and part of the restaurant used to be an old stone house, and the upper stories still had several small rooms that could be rented out to guests who arrived without a reservation, if the “normal” rooms were sold. That evening, the kitchen staff, the waitstaff, and many of us from the front desk squeezed into the largest room to huddle around the TV. President Bush addressed the nation and spoke about retaliation, about war, and he got a lot of cheers from some of the staff. It wasn’t uncommon for the kitchen staff to have a few beers on a quiet night or at the end of a long shift, and they had definitely been soothing their nerves with alcohol before the televised speech. With a particularly menacing snarl, one of the line cooks thrust a finger into the face of the Algerian restaurant manager and said “You hear that? You hear that? We’re coming for you and all the other terrorists!”
I have other very vivid memories from that day, from an off-duty police officer saying that he’d heard a small plane must have had an accident and hit one of the towers, to my wife’s disbelief when I told her at the college library, to hearing the panicked cries of classmates who had parents who worked at the Pentagon, to watching in horror as the footage looped over and over on TV, to the dread and fear and sense of isolation because phone lines were overloaded and you couldn’t make a call. But the most vivid memory, the one that helped to change who I am and how I would live my life, was when the line cook threatened his coworker of several years because of nothing more than where he’d been born and the god that he worshipped. In a day filled with tragedy, that action was an unexpectedly vile darkness that struck me.
In the days and years that followed, I became more outspoken about foreign affairs, about freedom of religion, and the imperative we have to accept each other’s differences. Because I had graduated high school only a few years before, I had friends who were in the military and who were deployed overseas. After the Iraq War started in 2003, I had friends who were sent there and who were fundamentally changed by what they saw and did there. On October 9th, 2009, one of my good friends was killed in action in Afghanistan; my friend, SSgt. Aaron Taylor, enlisted in the Marines during the summer before 9/11 and died more than eight years later as a direct result of that day’s destruction.
It’s still hard to think about the changes that 9/11 wrought on the country and the world, and the further we get from 2001, the more it feels like many people chose revenge and anger instead of seeking to understand what had happened and why. It also makes it that much more imperative to me that I live a life dedicated to helping others and choose love and compassion over the darker sides of our nature.
Lisa, West End Branch
In 2001 I was working as an elementary librarian in Henrico County. Our school’s population was about 30% children from many different parts of the world. At the time Eastern Europe was in turmoil and we had refugees who had witnessed death and destruction. There were families from Africa, the Middle East, Central America, Mexico, and Asia. I learned early that many of them, even the young ones, were the translators for their families. My goal was to make the library a welcoming space for all. We had monthly reading nights when children could bring their parents to the library and explore. On 9/12/01, I invited students and their families to the cafeteria to reinforce that we as a community were safe, that we would be okay. I have followed a life of service since I was a young person, volunteering in the community. I continued that with my daughter. And this year, as in other years, I will share my time in the community through meal deliveries, book drives, vaccine registrations and other ways I am able to give back. I believe it is only through communication and knowledge that we can overcome our fears. In our actions we can make a difference and honor those who have given their lives in service, decade upon decade.
Jenn, Main Library
I was in college on September 11, 2001. Ironically, I was in history class. As our professor received word of what was happening, he quickly dismissed us stating, “This is history in the making. We should not be here.” I remember all the students pouring out of the classroom, the building, and onto the campus. Looking around was eerie. Everyone had a similarly bewildered look on their face. Many of us made our way to the student commons to watch the news and collectively cope with what we were seeing. I remember feeling like that was the first day I really felt like an adult.
Today I am married to a firefighter who happens to work at a station that responded to the Pentagon attack. I must admit that firefighters are the first ones to come to my mind when I think about 9/11 now—their bravery, their sacrifice, their determination. I just can’t imagine how they rallied themselves to confront the tragedy. My husband has done the 9/11 stair climb several times and I hope to one day join him in that. But, for me, the most important way I think we can remember that day is to continue to talk about it, to share our experiences, and to listen to the experiences of others. I think it humanizes what happened and keeps the memory alive rather than allowing it fade into history.
To learn more about the 9/11 Museum’s digital exhibit, visit https://www.911memorial.org/learn/resources/digital-exhibitions/september-11-2001-day-changed-world
For a list of recommended readings about 9/11, click here.