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1968 Chicago riots

Coordinates: 41°52′N 87°44′W / 41.867°N 87.733°W / 41.867; -87.733
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1968 Chicago Riots
Part of the King assassination riots
DateApril 5–7 1968
(3 days)
41°52′N 87°44′W / 41.867°N 87.733°W / 41.867; -87.733
Caused byAssassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
MethodsRioting, race riots, protests, looting, attacks
Rioters, protesters

The 1968 Chicago riots, in the United States, were sparked in part by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Rioting and looting followed, with people flooding out onto the streets of major cities, primarily in black urban areas.[1] Over 100 major U.S. cities experienced disturbances, resulting in roughly $50 million in damage.

Rioters and police in Chicago – ironically a place of which King himself said "I've been in many demonstrations all across the South, but I can say that I have never seen, even in Mississippi and Alabama, mobs as hostile and as hate-filled as I'm seeing in Chicago" – were particularly aggressive, and the damage was severe.[2] Of the 39 people who died in the nationwide disturbances, 34 were black. Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. experienced some of the worst riots following King's assassination. In Chicago itself, more than 48 hours of rioting left 11 Chicago citizens dead, 48 wounded by police gunfire, 90 policemen injured, and 2,150 people arrested.[3] Three miles of East Garfield Park and West Garfield Park on West Madison Street were left in a state of rubble.

Later the same year, around the Democratic National Convention, Chicago would once again be a place for political protest and clashes with the authorities.


April 5[edit]

On April 5, 1968, violence sparked on the West side of Chicago, gradually expanding to consume a 28-block stretch of West Madison Street and leading to additional damage on Roosevelt Road.[4] The Austin and Lawndale neighborhoods on the West Side, and the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side experienced the majority of the destruction and chaos.[5] The rioters broke windows, looted stores, and set buildings (both abandoned and occupied) on fire. Firefighters quickly flooded the neighborhood, and Chicago's off-duty firefighters were told to report to work. There were 36 major fires reported between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm alone. The next day, Mayor Richard J. Daley imposed a curfew on anyone under the age of 21, closed the streets to automobile traffic, and halted the sale of guns or ammunition.[4]

April 6[edit]

Approximately 10,500 police were sent in, and by April 6, more than 6,700 Illinois National Guard troops had arrived in Chicago with 5,000 soldiers from the 1st Armored and 5th Infantry Divisions being ordered into the city by President Johnson.[6] The general in charge declared that no one was allowed to have gatherings in the riot areas and authorized the use of tear gas. Mayor Richard J. Daley gave police the authority "to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand ... and ... to shoot, to maim, or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city."[5]

The South Side had escaped the major chaos mainly because the two large street gangs, the Blackstone Rangers and the East Side Disciples, cooperated to control their neighborhoods. Many gang members did not participate in the rioting, due in part to King's direct involvement with these groups in 1966.[2]


Film shot by Daspo Conus on April 9, 1968, of Chicago after the riots

Federal troops were requested to restore order, and the President invoked the Insurrection Act of 1807 on April 7.

Rumors and investigation[edit]

Rumors circulated that the riots had been organized by Black Panther activists and on April 10, a Chicago Tribune editorial claimed that "Black Power groups" had been the driving force behind the violence through a "conspiracy to riot." No evidence was produced to support the argument that it was a planned riot. During the summer of 1968, Mayor Richard J. Daley appointed the Chicago Riot Study Committee. The committee was led by judges, business leaders, lawyers, and politicians, and staffed by volunteers from law offices. The Committee interviewed hundreds of black residents and white business owners in the area, as well as police officers, fire fighters, and local activists, but no evidence of a conspiracy was produced. The final Riot Study concluded, "Some of the rioters may have discussed specific acts of violence, but for the majority of blacks, the riot was a spontaneous overflow of pent-up aggressions."[7] The Committee also concluded that the majority of first rioters were high school students who began taking their frustration out on white business owners. Once the riots started, however, witnesses said that the riots expanded and multiple adults joined the teenage rioters. No evidence was found that concluded anyone intentionally set fire to a black-owned business or residence.[7]

Damages and shortages[edit]

The riots resulted in over 125 fires and 210 buildings being damaged, totaling $10 million worth of damages.[4] Power lines and telephone lines all around the city were knocked out. In the first two days of rioting, police reported multiple civilian deaths but were unable to determine whether they were caused by the riots or other crimes. No official death toll was given for the riots, although published accounts say 9 to 11 people died as a result. Over 2,000 people were arrested, and a thousand people were left homeless. The destruction was mostly on the west side. However, there was some damage on the south side, the near north side and as far north as Old Town.

Following the riots, Chicago experienced a food shortage, and the city's needs were barely met by volunteers bringing food to the area. Results of the riots include the increase in pace of the area's ongoing deindustrialization and public and private disinvestment. Bulldozers moved in to clean up after the rioters, leaving behind vacant lots, many of which remain today.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr". Archived from the original on February 20, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  2. ^ a b Risen, Clay (2009). "April 5: 'There are no ghettos in Chicago'". A nation on fire : America in the wake of the King assassination. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-17710-5.
  3. ^ "West Madison Street 1968". Associated Press. Retrieved May 17, 2011.
  4. ^ a b c Freeman, Jo. "Riot in Chicago". The Death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  5. ^ a b Coates, James (19 December 2007). "Riots Following the Killing of Martin Luther King Jr". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 25, 2011.
  6. ^ Janson, Donald (1968-04-07). "MORE SOLDIERS SENT TO CONTROL WASHINGTON AND CHICAGO RIOTS;; 5,000 Troops Are Flown To Chicago for Riot Duty 5,000 U.S. Troops Sent as Chicago Riots Spread; Death Toll Is 9, and 300 Are Hurt A YOUTH CURFEW ORDERED BY DALEY 7,500 Guard Troops Help to Patrol the City -800 Persons Seized". The New York Times. Retrieved 2020-06-01.
  7. ^ a b Report of the Chicago Riot Study Committee to the Hon. Richard J. Daley. Chicago, IL. 1968. p. 72.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)

Further reading[edit]