Left Out of the Picture

Members of Petey Greene's family  --  daughter Petra, left, widow Judy and son Ralph Waldo Greene III  --  are angry about Greene's depiction and their lack of input in his biopic.
Members of Petey Greene's family -- daughter Petra, left, widow Judy and son Ralph Waldo Greene III -- are angry about Greene's depiction and their lack of input in his biopic. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 20, 2007

Washington's own Petey Greene, hometown hero and subject of the new film "Talk to Me," is out here somewhere.

When he died of cancer in 1984, something like 10,000 people endured freezing January weather to attend his wake, funeral or burial and say goodbye to the ex-con, activist and broadcaster who had captured their hearts.

Twenty-three years on, you come to the hilltop where they laid him by -- Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland -- to pay your respects, but something is wrong. Row 372, Plot 12, the Frederick Douglass section. No Petey Greene. Not in this jumbled row or the next.

The temperature is 102. Brown grass. Baked dirt. Weeds.

Jerry Mercer, a family services counselor for the cemetery, gets out of a car and offers to help.

Petey Greene? Row 372?

"You're standing on him."

Come again?

"You're standing on him. Well, right there. See that pink headstone? He's right next to that. He doesn't have a marked grave."

Mercer steps over to a patch of weeds and red dirt between the headstones of Millie E. Carpenter and Fred Cason Sr. He holds his hands about the width of a coffin. He gestures back and forth, north to south.

"Petey's right down there."

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