Many of Washington’s monuments and memorials take years to come to life. This one happened nearly overnight. In the summer of 2020, D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser commissioned the massive yellow block letters to be painted, along with the D.C. flag, on the 2 blocks of 16th Street stretching north from Lafayette Park and the White House. The letters, and the official renaming of this portion of the street to Black Lives Matter Plaza, were initially seen not only as a response to the murder of George Floyd but also a rebuke to then-President Donald Trump, whose use of federal troops to block streets in D.C. and intimidate peaceful protesters after Floyd’s death was sharply criticized by Bowser and other Washingtonians. (The plaza is clearly visible from the White House.) 

But Black Lives Matter Plaza quickly became much more. It’s a gathering place—you may find demonstrations, music, dance parties, or people bringing grills out. It’s a place of reflection; people stand in silence and parents bring their children here to learn about the fight for racial justice. The city council is now working to make the mural a permanent fixture, with traffic rerouted to create a pedestrian zone around the letters.