In Gorée’s story, echoes of Ferguson

The story of semipro Chicago baseball manager Fred Gorée is precisely a story of the harsh realties of African-American life intersecting with the sport of baseball.

It’s also a tale from decades ago that resonates so much today, 90 years later, because of what’s still occurring on a frighteningly high level.

When Gorée was killed Aug. 1, 1925, by two bullets from the gun of a St. Louis County, Mo., deputy constable, during what, on the surface, seemed like a routine traffic stop for speeding, it caused historical ripples that are felt today when, from Ferguson, Mo., to Baltimore, young African-American men and women are dying either while in police custody or at the end of a law enforcement officer’s gun barrel.

But those ripples have, for nine decades, also run through Fred Gorée’s family — which has roots in Lincoln Parish, La. — and descendants, who to this day believe that, despite what Fred’s death certificate says, he was a black man cut down in cold blood by a white cop.

“My grandfather was murdered by the police,” says Joyce Elmore, one of Fred Gorée’s familial progeny. “He had a very fancy car, and the officer didn’t believe it was his car. [The officer] followed him and told him to get out of the car. They got into an argument because [the officer] treated him very badly, he shot him, then left him for dead in a ditch.

“Then,” she adds, “the police officer took his car and did a little joyriding. He didn’t call for an ambulance or anything. He just killed him.”

Joyce’s description of what happened that night comes second-hand, a tale passed down through her family’s generations.

It also differs wildly from what was reported at the time, at least by the mainstream media, who seemed to fire off articles that parroted the official line coming from the St. Louis County Constable’s Office.

That law-enforcement report had Gorée, in his Buick, was speeding along at 48 miles per hour, then refused to be taken to the police station for 20 hours of detention and questioning. Gorée then allegedly tried to wrest deputy constable Patrick Bennett’s gun from Bennett, a physical scuffle ensued that rolled the pair down an embankment and soon caused two shots from the gun to enter Gorée’s body. He died less than two hours later at a private residence.

Within a mere 24 hours of Fred’s death, an inquest into the killing was conducted, and a grand jury cleared Bennett of any wrongdoing stemming from the incident. The coroner in the case listed “justifiable homicide” on Gorée’s death certificate, essentially writing off Bennett’s actions as self-defense.

But Joyce Elmore tells a very different opinion of her progenitor’s death. In ensuing posts, I’ll try to go into more detail about both Fred Gorée’s life and about his death, but today I’ll just relate the feelings of a woman who never had a chance to meet her grandfather because of what happened on that dark country road near St. Louis more than 90 years ago.

Joyce Elmore is positive her grandfather’s sudden, violent end was shrouded with and soaked in a distinctly racial overtone, one of a white police officer doing what today would be called racial profiling. Missouri, she says, has always had the mindset of a Southern state, and St. Louis that of a Dixie city.

“It was racially motivated,” Joyce says of Fred’s death. “It wasn’t justifiable [homicide] as far as I’m concerned.

“There is no justice,” adds Joyce, who lives in San Jose, Calif. “In Missouri, black people have always been treated like dirt. [Fred] was in the wrong place at the wrong time. They beat him up, shot him and stole his car. It was another racial murder in the South.

“This [social and racial dynamic] goes way back, and it’s continuing, and unless something is done, it’s going to continue. [Law enforcement] has been doing it for so many years. They just play it off.”

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