Memorializing the Guardians of the First Amendment

by Jay Graham, FASLA

The ‘Guardians of the First Amendment’ Memorial in Annapolis, Maryland / image: © Allen Russ Photography, LLC

In 2018, a team from Moody Graham Landscape Architecture met with members of the Annapolis Caucus of African American Leaders after touring various sites around town that tell their story. We thought their story could be told in a more emphatic manner, and shared how landscape architects are skilled at telling community narratives within the physical environment. Our firm has a couple of local examples which they were familiar with, without knowing the designs were by landscape architects. They seemed to welcome our idea to help them.

A few months later, a tragedy occurred in our town when a gunman killed five journalists at the office of our local newspaper, the Capital Gazette. A group from the African-American Caucus, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Committee, approached us to see if we could help design a memorial for the five journalists. That was the beginning of a two-and-a-half year engagement with many members of the Annapolis community.

The Design Process

The committee’s initial idea was to have images of the five slain journalists on a granite monument to be placed at a significant location in Annapolis. Moody Graham offered to have an in-house design charrette to generate design ideas. This effort was offered pro bono to give the committee something to use to attract community interest.

We generated nine concepts, which we shared with the committee and the Annapolis Art in Public Places Commission. We then met with leadership of the Baltimore Media Group, the owners of the Capital Gazette newspaper. At that meeting, the narrative behind the memorial took a more focused direction. We were told that journalists do not want to be the story. Journalists are part of the community. They are the guardians of freedom of the press, for the community.

The next design iteration began with a grove of trees—the community. Five pillars of granite—the five deceased journalists—recalling tree trunks, were arrayed in front of a large granite wall etched with the words of the First Amendment. The backdrop is a tall brick wall, a familiar landscape feature seen around the historic seventeenth century city.

Memorial design meeting and presentation with the African American Caucus and the County Executive / image: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Maryland

Funding, Community Acceptance, and Approvals

Initially, the MLK, Jr. Committee envisioned this would be privately funded with donations. As the design took shape, becoming a more complex design encompassing a broader ‘idea,’ the City, County, and State of Maryland became interested in seeing this memorial become a reality. The largest portion of funding came from the State. The County contributed a significant portion. The City gave the land and additional funding due to exigencies during construction.

While the City supported the project, we had to apply and receive approvals from the Maryland Historic Trust, the Annapolis Historic Preservation Commission, Arts in Public Places Commission, and the Department of Public Works.

Construction Challenges

The land the city gave for the memorial is very close to the city dock area, the center of historic Annapolis. Adjacent to this site, the city will be building a flood mitigation infrastructure project within the next couple of years. We worked with AECOM, the designers of that project, to coordinate the two landscapes. During the mandated archaeological investigations, it was revealed that the soils (which we knew were bad) were even worse than expected. Extensive soil studies recommended added foundation work. Helical piers were designed to support the foundations for the wall and the five granite pillars. This extensive redesign of the foundations led to increased costs. With all levels of government committed to the completion of the project, additional funds were found.

The ‘Guardians of the First Amendment’ Memorial was dedicated on June 28, 2021. / image: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Committee of Maryland


An early goal of the MLK, Jr. Committee was to have the memorial dedicated on the third anniversary of the shooting. Design approvals and construction difficulties made the schedule a challenge. We chose to work with a contractor with whom we had a long and trusted relationship. Careful planning and hard work meant we made the deadline.

Initially, we were informed that the families of the murdered journalists would not participate in the design of the memorial. When the design was complete, and renderings were shown, more of the community began to embrace the idea of a memorial, and the design of this memorial. The families of the deceased were at the dedication and have come to see the role the memorial plays in their story.

image: © Allen Russ Photography, LLC

Many community members were present for the dedication. Representatives of the State, County, and City government attended and spoke at the dedication. Journalists and first responders were there, and recognized for their role.

At the end of the dedication event, we, as the designers who have lived with this project for two and a half years, realized the memorial now belonged to the whole community. While it was a tragedy that brought us all together, it was gratifying to see a strong sense of community focused on the value placed on our local journalists and the founding principles of our country.

Jay Graham, FASLA, is Senior Principal at Moody Graham Landscape Architecture, a Washington DC-based design firm focused on landscape architecture, garden design, and ecological planning.

One thought on “Memorializing the Guardians of the First Amendment

  1. Bob Alter November 1, 2021 / 5:28 pm

    Great design. Great narrative. Thanks for sharing.

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