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My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.

[Detail] My Country Tis of Thee. Brittany Woodward, 2001.

Public Response to the Attacks

Lillie Haws, a bar owner in Brooklyn, was not an eyewitness to the attacks but did see firsthand events that occurred afterward. She described a scene in her Brooklyn bar around midnight on September 11, as friends and acquaintances entered the closed bar from the back door.

We had about 50 people in the bar. And then the firemen came in from our local ladder companies. . . . And the smell that was on their bodies, the soot, the burning smell, and their ears were blackened and they had burns. They came in and they asked me how I was, which I thought was just phenomenal, being that they had just been in the midst of a catastrophe that we’ve never known in our history in this country, especially in New York. …My friends started circling around them, and everybody just wanted to be with them. And that was the closest that really anybody that was here had gotten to this disaster. And so we decided, let’s just give it a go, let’s just all be together, stay close together. They cried, they laughed–mostly laughed which I couldn’t believe because they really just tried to find some kind of comfort in laughter. And we rang in the night, probably all night, and took care of them. I’ll never forget that day, and those guys’ faces. And I looked, I looked at guys coming in, and I kept looking for certain guys, and I didn’t see their faces. And of course I assumed the worst. And I asked the other firemen, “Where’s Christian, where’s Sal, where’s these guys?” And they were among the missing. And that was my day of September 11, 2001.

Excerpted from “Interview with Lillie Haws, New York, New York, November 12, 2001”

Listen to more of Lillie Haws’s interview and answer the following questions.

  • How does Haws describe the firemen who came to the bar?
  • In what ways did Haws and others in her community reach out to assist firefighters?
  • What can be inferred from Lillie Haws’ interview about the way in which people came together during the tragedy?

Far from the actual attack sites, Mayor Douglas Thompson of Logan, Utah, described how his community came together in the weeks that followed:

Then my thoughts were “What can we do to pull our own community together and particularly help the feelings of grief and mourning that we all felt, even if we didn’t have someone directly involved in the tragedy?” . . . We got together with other community leaders, mainly church leaders, to put together a memorial that was absolutely amazing because it was the first time in decades that . . . leaders of all the churches in the community actually got together and talked about something. . . . and that group has continued on to meet to try to deal with community-wide issues . . .

. . . we’ve pulled together as a community. . .. We’ve been doing things as a community that we’ve not done before in the past. People gave blood for the first time in their lives and hopefully they’ll continue to do that. Feelings of patriotism are higher now that any time I’ve seen in my lifetime and I hope that will continue. . . . I hope we can keep that feeling of love and concern for each other and the feeling of patriotism and loyalty.

Excerpted from “Interview with Douglas Thompson, Logan, Utah, November 14, 2001”

As Mayor Thompson highlighted, taking action after a catastrophic event, whether through remembering those who died or helping those who survived, helps people deal with their grief. Similarly, demonstrating unity as a community also helps combat the sense of powerlessness that such events produce—in unity, people find strength. Look for evidence in the collection of the ways in which people remembered and helped victims of the terrorist attacks and showed unity as a nation. Examine the Photographs and Drawings in the collection, and use such Subject listings as disaster relief and patriotism to locate information about the national response. Create a chart or a collage that shows ways in which people provided relief assistance and demonstrated a sense of national unity following the September 11 attacks.

Not every response was positive, however. Soon after the attacks, the media reported assaults on people believed to be Arabs/Muslims. Some people interviewed for the September 11 Documentary Project described new feelings toward Arab-Americans and Muslims:

I hate to admit this but sometimes I feel suspicion and mistrust when I see people of Middle Eastern descent. I look at them differently. I don’t treat them differently, but I feel some fear in my heart and that’s really, really hard for me to admit because it doesn’t feel good.

Excerpted from “Interview with Lorraine Scott, Anaheim, California, October 22, 2001”

Use the interviews listed below to begin exploring the issues of post-9/11 prejudice and discrimination. What evidence can you find to assess the seriousness of the issues? What strategies do interviewees suggest for dealing with the issues? How effective do you think these strategies were?

  • William H. Moulder, Chief of Police in Des Moines, Iowa, described city leaders’ efforts to ensure that retaliation would not occur in their community.
  • Arshad Yousufi, a leader in the Muslim community in Colorado Springs, Colorado, discussed people’s responses toward him in the wake of the attacks and his efforts to educate the community about Islam.
  • Ran Kong, a student from Greensboro, North Carolina, described being mistaken for an Arab and the fears she experienced about her personal safety.
  • Adeel Mirza, an attorney in Madison, Wisconsin, talked about incidents in which family members have been taunted and the dangers of becoming overly nationalistic.