The Real “The Wire”: History of Baltimore Kingpins & The Baltimore Ghetto

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History of Baltimore Kingpins & The Baltimore Ghetto

West Baltimore, and the entire city, has been in the media’s spotlight for the past decades, from the hit HBO series “The Wire” to the broadcasting of the city’s high crime and poverty rates in the streets of the Baltimore ghetto, along with the often publicization of police brutality and local political corruption.

Many were first introduced to the streets of various Baltimore hoods through David Simon’s “The Wire”. Viewers were able to witness a fictional and fabrication of what life was like growing up in the streets and urban community of Baltimore, from policing to politics to lifestyles to an inside look into the dealings of Baltimore kingpins.

Short Timeline of Baltimore Kingpins

From the West Side to the East Side, the city of Baltimore had a number of legends that once ran the streets, some of them would later become fictional characters on the famous television show “The Wire”, to go along with some of the once notorious housing projects that were at the center of many operations.

Watching “The Wire” gives an example of the streets and of Baltimore kingpins from the 1970s to the early 1990s, but only in a modern-day perspective. The use an dealing of heroin during the 1970s transformed into the use and dealing of crack cocaine in the 1980s and 1990s and once again with the users turning back to heroin as of the 2000s. Each era was different, the 1970s with a more chain of command and only a chosen few were involved to the 1990s with the rise of violence, people standing on the corner and many were involved.

west baltimore kingpins

Editorial Credit: Nicole Glass Photography /

While there were times when Jamaicans and people from New York profited from the streets of Baltimore, the main Baltimore kingpins were with the likes of the old school legends of Peanut King, Little Melvin, followed by the 1980s with T. Stanfield, M. Bates, N. Barksdale (Bodie), then in the 1990s with Rudy, A. Jones, T.L. Canty, and later the likes of G. Smith (Mr Big), the Rice Brothers, and others, all allegedly made millions of dollars during their day.

While every city has kingpins and people who control the trade, every city also has notorious neighborhoods that have gained reputations in the city for the wrong reasons. Housing projects of the old Lexington Terrace and Murphy Homes on the city’s West Side or East Baltimore’s Lafayette Courts and Flag House, all torn down in the 1990s, became legendary communities before their demolishing with plenty of memories, good and bad for the former residents and occupants.

Map of Baltimore Hoods

Map of different sections and areas of the Baltimore hoods, and not necessarily Baltimore gangs, which includes most parts of the city like East Baltimore, Northeast, Park Heights, Cherry Hill, West Baltimore, and parts of Baltimore County.

This hoods map will show the location of the old housing projects that were demolished in the late 1990s, like the Lafayette Projects and Flag House, both of the East Side, and the Murphy Homes and Lexington Terrace of West Side, as well many of the blocks and areas that were showed on the hit TV series “The Wire”.

The West Baltimore hoods include SandTown, EA (Edmondson Avenue), Walbrook JCT, Whitelock City, McCulloh Homes, Poe Homes, Poplar Grove, Fayette Street, North and Pulaski, Edmondson Village, and much more.  While the other sections of the West Side are the Northwest hoods of Park Heights and Liberty Heights, or into Southwest Baltimore with hoods like Irv Town and Yale Heights.

The streets of East Baltimore are located in the Latrobe Homes, Perkins Homes, Deaky Land (Eager and Broadway), Patterson Park, Highland Town, Barclay, and numerous other blocks.  Just north of East Balitmore is the Northeast section with Baltimore hoods of York Road, Greenmount, Northwoods, Hillen Road, Belair Road or Ramblewood.

Brief History of West Baltimore

While the city’s black population is well dispersed throughout the city, like South Baltimore’s Cherry Hill and Brooklyn or East Baltimore from Highland Town to Northeast’s Ramblewood, West Baltimore is the heart of the city.

One of the oldest black populations in the country have been in the Baltimore region, dating back to the 1800s. The city’s black population, which has been constantly growing year by year, began as newly arrivals were provided opportunities to work in the local Baltimore shipyards.

Originally the city’s black population made their residence in a small section of East Baltimore. As the black population increased, African Americans began to live in neighborhoods of West Baltimore, mostly between North Avenue and Edmondson.

west baltimore ghetto

Editorial Credit: Florida Chuck /

Eventually, Pennsylvania Avenue and Edmondson would become the heart of Baltimore’s black culture as many called neighborhoods like Sandtown, the Bottom, or Upton their home.

During the 1950s and 1960s, integration and the desegregating of Baltimore’s communities gave the opportunity for African Americans to be able to move out of the small segregated sections of East and West Baltimore and expand in other areas of the West Side and East Side.

While before the 1970s there were only a handful of black neighborhoods like Cherry Hill or Turner Station, by the beginning of the 1970s the entire city became predominantly African-American, with exception to a few areas.

The Truth About “The Wire”

While the Baltimore ghetto, and the metropolitan area as a whole, may have one of the country’s worst drug problems, which was often displayed on The Wire, the HBO series also showed corruption and poor policing that took the reign as the city’s biggest problem.

Before the Freddie Gray riots, the locals of Baltimore had legitimate claims of an excessive police presence in the community with times of local law enforcement being out of control. From false claims and enforcement of petty loitering laws to unrestrained and unlawful policing tactics, along with creating stricter laws by local politicians who turned out to be engaging in criminal acts themselves.

The other side of “The Wire” was the streets as characters Marlo Stanfield and Avon Barksdale, Baltimore kingpins, displayed the terror and reign of the drug trade in the streets of the West Baltimore ghetto. In reality, as mentioned earlier in the article, the 1970s was the beginning era of the streets in the many neighborhoods of East Baltimore and West Baltimore and what was depicted in The Wire does not occur in the streets of modern day Baltimore.

There are some residents of Baltimore who disagree with “The Wire” and claim most of the show is false and is not an accurate depiction of the streets of Baltimore, mainly due to the claim of no one person can control an entire city.

Conclusion, Today’s West Baltimore

The streets within the Baltimore ghetto are still among the roughest with high homicide rates in the country. The city of Baltimore seems destined for a change, especially with the city’s location, from its close location near the eastern shore to the being just a hour away from Washington DC and other major East Coast cities.

In present day Baltimore, the process of gentrification has left numerous blocks in the city center rotting and deteriorating seemingly to be way to push many residents out of East Baltimore and West Baltimore into Baltimore County or certain sections of the city that are at a further distance from downtown, like Northeast Baltimore or Southwest Baltimore.

baltimore ghetto baltimore hoods


Since the 1990s, the Baltimore ghetto has a number of old neighborhoods that have been demolished, mainly the old housing projects of Lafayette Court in East Baltimore or the Murphy Homes in West Baltimore, to also go along with the numerous of empty and dilapidated rowhouses that have plagued Baltimore’s inner city.

Baltimore Hoods Related Topics:

1 Top Baltimore Rappers

2 Map of Washington DC Gangs & Hoods

3 The Old Atlanta: How the City Changed…

4 Legends of the Streets: City to city Top Kingpins, Gang Leaders, Crews

*Note: All information is provided through people of the community, outside sources, and research. Some information might not be current and/or 100% accurate