HAND IN YOUR MAN CARD: Baltimore’s Greatest Tragedy

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A friend of mine sent me an article entitled “Lord of the Flies’ comes to Baltimore,” written by John Blake, a journalist who writes about race and culture as well as other topics for CNN. Blake spoke about how “his neighborhood” has disappeared because all of the “older black men” have largely disappeared, either because they have died off or have long prison sentences.

He got this from a man by the name of Zachary Lewis who he found standing by a makeshift memorial placed at the spot where Freddie Gray, the man whose death ignited the riots, was arrested.

Lewis was talking about his community, and how sad he was that there were no older role models. How old is this Zachery Lewis? I mean, since he was standing out on the street, so disillusioned by the lack of role models, he must be about 12 or 13, right? Nope, Mr. Zachery Lewis is 28.

We’re talking about a man old enough to be out of law school for three years or medical school for two. By the time my father was 28, he was a sergeant in the army with five kids. He’d just bought a brand new home in Willingboro, New Jersey and allowed us kids to pick out the living room furniture (he gave us three choices) and we had to stay “dressed up” all day. He considered himself, at that time one of the “older men.” At 28 years old, my husband was a captain in the military. He was responsible for his entire battery of 100 or so men. We got married and assumed the mortgage of a very sweet little house close to the campus of the university where I achieved my Ph.D. He considered himself, at that time one of the “older men.”

But the man I want to speak about today is my Uncle Eddie who lived there in Baltimore, RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET FROM MONDAWMIN MALL. He lived on Reisterstown Road until his death in the middle 1990’s. He was married from the time that he arrived from Jamaica in the middle 40’s until the day of his death. He was a white man, my grandmother’s brother, and Aunt Bessie was black – and a very fine looking woman. They settled into life right there in that neighborhood, with him working “up-town” and working his way up the ladder at a business far outside of the neighborhood. Aunt Bessie pretty much managed the household, buying up most of the properties around the neighborhood and managing the rentals, raising their two children and running a women’s neighborhood club in the basement.

The tenants of the once nice homes were a mixed lot, some interracial couples and their children, gay couples, and some people down on their luck from divorces and the like. A real mixed story of challenges but all decent people. This was never a neighborhood with “white picket fences.” My aunt played “the numbers” and cooked every night for my uncle who could have eaten where he worked, given the nature of his employment, but refused to.

He was friends with George, a former Tuskegee airman, who owned a massive number of liquor stores, and was fairly rich. Donnie, their friend was very high in the waste management administration of Baltimore, was also in their circle and they would complain about how much he ate, but my aunt still fried more pork chops or more chicken and made more potato salad to accommodate him on every other Saturday when he was off. Several other men would come and go from the circle from time to time but these were the core three.

Read more: allenbwest.com

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