Digital archive of Freddie Gray protests gives Baltimoreans a voice in history

The Maryland Historical Society this week launched a digital archive of the 2015 Baltimore uprising that highlights a 'counternarrative' of a city under siege.

Screen grab from
Preserve the Baltimore Uprising is a website with content created by individual community members, grass-roots organizations, and witnesses to the protests that followed the death of Freddie Gray on April 19, 2015.

In an effort to capture a range of citizen voices for posterity, the Maryland Historical Society is releasing a database of user-submitted photos, oral histories, and videos from the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore last year.

On Thursday, the society announced the launch of the website,, which offers a searchable database of thousands of videos, photos, oral accounts, and written documents that provide a look at a range of perspectives from the unrest following Mr. Gray’s death in police custody last April.

"It is crucial to gather and preserve as many perspectives and experiences of protest and unrest as possible," the society's website says. "Too often, history is shaped by official accounts. When the history of the Baltimore Uprising of 2015 is written, we want to make sure it can include voices from the streets as well as voices from the halls of government."

The website's launch mirrors a growing trend of pushing for a re-examination of historical events around America's history with race and racism, including an exhibit launched by Princeton University that reconsiders the legacy of Woodrow Wilson in terms of views on race and a move by several universities to acknowledge their ties to slavery.

But the inclusion of a variety of citizen voices in the historical society's online archive has been notably enhanced by the growing use of technology to document events – including unfolding protests – as they occur, often creating a parallel narrative to the one generated by mainstream media outlets.

Documents in the society's archive consciously address the desire to push for an alternative narrative. A series of oral history interviews by local nonprofit Wide Youth Media, for example, asked young Baltimore residents at the protests what they would tell people outside the city.

"The whole city is not in flames like the media is making it look and the riots was just one day," said 18-year-old Mikiah in a May 2015 interview. "It wasn't all about Freddie Gray, he was just like the tipping point. And I just want people to know that Baltimore is a great city."

In contrast to media portrayals of the protests in Baltimore as violent, many documents reveal a sense of hope and a desire to reform the city's policies as an overwhelming motivation for residents. "It’s gonna get better, as long we doing the protests it's gonna get better," 15-year-old Jabril Williams said in a Wide Angle Youth Media interview.

Joe Tropea, the society's digital project coordinator, told the Associated Press that cellphone photography and social media have made it increasingly possible for a growing number of people to chronicle historic events themselves and preserve them for future generations.

The society is planning a video installation of the images, which will open at its headquarters in Baltimore in late June.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to