A Year After Buffalo: ‘There’s No Forgiveness for That. Ever.’

Adrienne hadn’t left Barbara’s side for the past 10 days, and Dawn, after working 16-hour nursing shifts, always checked in to see how she could help. One of the victim-resource advocates seemed particularly understanding, so a few days earlier, Barbara asked when she could take a vacation.

“I need to go,” she said. Just two days. “I just have to go. I have to leave because it’s too much.” It wasn’t that she wanted a vacation or had some pressing thing she had to do; it was about getting a break from home, from her house a few doors down from her sister’s, the same street they grew up on, with the garden her parents planted vegetables in, the corners she and her siblings played on, the house she raised her family in. Cherry Street wasn’t just where she lived, it was who she was, the site of her entire life. This was the first time she had ever wanted to leave.

A sudden grief can snatch you by the ankles. Everything up goes down. At the restaurant, Barbara, Adrienne and Dawn tried to make sense of it all, forcing their minds to accept that Kat could be gone so suddenly when she wasn’t even sick, that people could have so much hate in their hearts for utter strangers. Adrienne wondered if so much of the hatred that white people felt was really discomfort about their history, but, she said, how can you ever expect to move past it if people want you to ignore it? “Don’t nobody give a [expletive] that white people came and took us and took over everything, and then you act like you own everything,” she said. Her voice started to crack.

Barbara said she mourned the past: the loss of human decency, the inability for parents to confidently send their children out to play safely. “It’s a sad world,” she told Adrienne and Dawn. “At least, when we were growing up, even though it was ugly, we didn’t know it.”

A mostly Black crowd of 100 people gathered together a few weeks later at a snug triangle of city-owned grass. It was a sweaty July morning, and their faces gleamed like brass. They had assembled for a street-naming ceremony: Katherine “Kat” Massey Way now runs alongside Inspiration Garden. The garden is only a few steps from the house that Kat grew up in. It had been neglected until the Cherry Street Block Club, basically Kat and some fancy-looking letterhead, wrote the city in protest. Kat’s neighborhood on the east side of Buffalo, known as the Fruit Belt, has been a Black neighborhood for a long time, which is most likely why, when the city needed to build a new highway in the 1950s, it was designed to slice right through Cherry Street. Warren, Kat and Barbara all lived on Cherry, their neat lawns and wide porches facing a sunken freeway.

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