Sandtown Elegy

Sandtown Elegy

Remembering Freddie Gray, 1989–2015.

Photo by Kevin B. Moore

On a crisp February morning, I joined my co-hosts and producer of the podcast “Undisclosed: The Killing of Freddie Gray” for a visit to Gilmor Homes in Baltimore, where Gray was arrested and thrown in the back of a police vehicle in 2015. Seven days later, Gray was declared dead with broken vertebrae, sparking the uprising in Baltimore. Six police officers were charged in the case, but not convicted.

“You with the news or something,” asked an elderly man who approached us as the producer filmed surveillance cameras and the sidewalk where Gray was pinned on the ground. He told us that Gray was a nice kid and that he could hear his screams the morning of the arrest. He told us that living at Gilmor—a public housing community created in 1941 for black defense industry workers—was sometimes hard. His wife had just died, so he didn’t like spending too much time at home. We thanked him for talking to us, then he hopped on a bicycle and headed to work.

Black police cars and a transport van, like the one that picked up Gray, circled the block as we visited the neighborhood murals. Some of these memorials are lined with glass bottles, potted plants and flowers, and torn protest signs.

As we wrapped up our visit, I noticed three young men walking down Mount Street. As they approached this mural, one of them removed his hand from his pocket. He pressed his fingers to his lips, and then touched the center of the mural. He quickly put his hand back in his pocket, maybe to warm it up or perhaps to conclude his mourning ritual undetected. The young men greeted us as they continued on their walk.

Marcia Chatelain is Associate Professor of History and African American Studies at Georgetown University.  She is on the editorial board of Dissent