The Death and Life of Edmund Perry Obituary

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic

An obituary reviewing the struggles of Edmund Perry as a black student at the predominantly white school of Exeter. Analyses similar struggles of all contemporary disadvantaged African Americans.

The Death and Life of Edmund Perry


Edmund Perry, 17, died when shot by a police officer during a confrontation on June 12th, 1985.


It is difficult to imagine a Harlem student that was more talented, or whose death was more important than Edmund Perry's.


A polarizing graduate from Exeter, Perry represented many opposing opinions of not only himself, but also the struggle that existed as a black student drifting between the planes of the predominantly white Exeter, and the proudly black Harlem.


Education and Family

Born to an active political member of the school board, Veronica Perry ensured that Edmund lived through his early life with great political ambition: becoming the first African American president. He also had a brother, Jonah Perry whom he had a competitive relationship, constantly trying to one-up his own brother. His competitive and ambitious attitude allowed him to excel at Wadleigh (a school in Harlem) and soon became a premiere example of a brilliant student according to many of his teachers. Both teachers and students throughout his academic career will regard Edmund as "Aggressive in an intellectual way", or a "sparkplug for discussion". Through Eduard Plummer's Special Program, a locally operated opportunity program for talented children, Edmund was accepted into an exceptionally prestigious school: Exeter, and soon received a full scholarship to Stanford college. During his time at Exeter, Edmund took a year abroad to  study in Spain. Towards the end of his international trip, he attained good grades and was considered by his classmate to "speak perfect Spanish" and be unafraid of leading discussions. This was an experience very similar to most of his time at Exeter. Throughout his time in Spain, Edmund even fell in love and began dating a girl named Arielle Natelson. His friends described his relationship with Arielle as "a tender, touching relationship."


The Developing Distress

However, during his enrollment at Exeter, the universal respect for Edmund was not matched by universal love. Edmund's inclination to gravitate towards issues of race and his strong opinions regarding it alienated many members of the primarily the white community at Exeter. Most memorably was the reaction to Eddie's "New Black" speech, where he is compared to the Black Power Movement. In addition to his increasingly defensive façade, his original ambition to better his neighborhood and represent his race as the first African American president soon degraded to simply wanting to earn money. This development was all aided by the recreational and frequent use of marijuana. The social pressure to be the person that was already perceived by the white community at Exeter (a confident and experienced drug-dealer from Harlem) altered him into the person of the stereotype.


However, his flaws were not inherent, but instead a product of an extreme contrast in the two portions of his life. Mr. Plummer has stated that "We know it is not going to be easy for a child from Wadleigh to go to one of these schools (Exeter)… we admit to them they will encounter racism." At Exeter, he was intellectually separated from his peers and deemed a racist radical. The very people he considered to be the oppressive majority surrounded him. Edmund was no longer considered an authentic member of the community at home after partaking at Exeter either. He could not continue treading between the two realms he was put into. For a teenager developing their maturity, to experience such genuine loneliness and psychological segregation could only result in a defensive and socially isolated front.


Why Edmund Matters

But regardless of his mistakes, he represented the aspirations of the Harlem people: to graduate from Exeter and be accepted into Stanford was the beyond the magnum opus of the most hopeful Harlem student. This is why regardless of his own achievements, impressive as they were, he became the culmination of praise for many people, both in Harlem, and at Exeter. He was the one who was going to make it, succeed in the white world through perspiration and resilience and come back to the cheers of his neighborhood as he economically and social reformed the nation behind the notion of social equality as the president. One of Edmund's cousins recounted that "He was our shining star, nobody in our family ever did what he did. He was going to change things for us." A friend of Edmund also expresses this barrage of responsibility, "He didn't have the freedom to be an individual. All his life he was a symbol, a slot-filler. And Eddie knew it."


However, regardless of his aversion to being a symbol, Edmund was also an example of something bigger than an individual, and essential topic of importance: a representation of the difficulties of the African American community of the ghettos. The ones who make it to Exeter and Stanford maintain a balancing act that eats away at the psyche and actual persona of the person until nothing but racial loathing or apathy is left. When you face institutional racism as direct ignorance or the tolerance of discrimination you become progressively aware that there are still things the hundred years of struggles have not rectified. Though there are those that are frustrated when the death and life of Edmund Perry are regarded as an issue of social inequality, and are tired of hearing about racism as an excuse, imagine the exhaustion of having to live through racism embedded economically and socially in the world that surrounds them. Edmund Perry is one of the constant reminds of the true inequality that exists in America today.


Obituary contributed by Robert Sam Anson, June 14th, 1985






Submitted: December 09, 2014

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very interesting and prescient.

Tue, December 9th, 2014 9:39pm

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