Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Virtual Readings For Baltimore's Freddie Gray

Editor's note: This post contains some language that many will find offensive.

Lots of people are looking for words to make sense of Freddie Gray's death and the subsequent unrest in Baltimore, and have turned to writers — from novelist and social critic James Baldwin to hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar — for an assist. They're sharing these writers' words on social media, as screenshots in tweets, Instragrammed pictures of open books, and Photoshopped collages uploaded to Facebook.

Here are some of the virtual readings that stuck out to us — with context.

Twitter user @dhere offered up a poem by Countee Cullen, a black poet who lived in Baltimore in the early part of the 20th century, and was married to Nina Du Bois, W.E.B. Du Bois' daughter. It's called "Incident":

Others have been quoting from this July 1968 Esquire interview with James Baldwin, published shortly after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination and during a period of tremendous civil unrest. The unnamed interviewer starts off by asking Baldwin, "How can we get the black people to cool it?"

Baldwin responds, "It is not for us to cool it."

To which the interviewer replies, "But aren't you the ones who are getting hurt the most?"

"No, we are only the ones who are dying fastest."

The interview goes on:

Here's a reference to a Kendrick Lamar song called "Mortal Man," in which he imagines a conversation with Tupac Shakur about black culture and racism.

In the song, Lamar asks Tupac:

"Me being one of your offspring of the legacy you left behind I can truly tell you that there's nothing but turmoil goin' on so I wanted to ask you what you think is the future for me and my generation today?"

Lamar uses archival audio from a real 1994 interview with Tupac to have the slain rapper reply:

Here's an image someone made and shared of a Langston Hughes poem called "Warning":

One person cited an article titled "Against Innocence" by Jackie Wang, who's a poet and Ph.D. student African-American studies at Harvard. (It's easier to read if you click on the tweet below and view the picture that way.)

You can find lots more posts like this, related to Freddie Gray and the Baltimore protests, by checking out #twitterpoetryclub, a semi-regular conversation hosted by @dntsqzthchrmn.

NPR digital editor Tanya Ballard Brown contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit