1968 Washington, D.C., riots

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from 1968 Washington, D.C. riots)
Jump to: navigation, search
1968 Washington, D.C. riots
D.C. riot. April '68. Aftermath 19733v.jpg
A firetruck spraying water on buildings
Date April 4, 1968 (1968-04-04) – April 8, 1968 (1968-04-08)
Location Washington, D.C., U.S.
38°55′01″N 77°01′55″W / 38.91694°N 77.03194°W / 38.91694; -77.03194Coordinates: 38°55′01″N 77°01′55″W / 38.91694°N 77.03194°W / 38.91694; -77.03194
Causes Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Methods Rioting, race riots, protests, looting, attacks
Parties to the civil conflict
Death(s) 12
Injuries 1,098
Arrested 6,100+

Six days of race riots erupted in Washington, D.C., following the assassination of the Civil Rights Movement-leader Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968. A wave of civil disorder affected at least 110 U.S. cities; Washington, along with Chicago and Baltimore, were among the most affected.


The ready availability of jobs in the growing federal government attracted many to Washington in the 1960s, and middle class African-American neighborhoods prospered. Despite the end of legally mandated racial segregation, the historic neighborhoods of Shaw, the H Street Northeast corridor, and Columbia Heights, centered at the intersection of 14th and U Streets Northwest, remained the centers of African-American commercial life in the city.

Course of events[edit]

As word of King's assassination in Memphis, Tennessee spread on the evening of Thursday, April 4, crowds began to gather at 14th and U. Stokely Carmichael, the Trinidad and Tobago-born activist and Howard University graduate, had parted with King in 1966, and had been removed as head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1967, but led members of the SNCC to stores in the neighborhood demanding that they close out of respect. Although polite at first, the crowd fell out of control and began breaking windows. By 11pm, widespread looting had begun, as well as in over 30 other cities.

Mayor-Commissioner Walter Washington ordered the damage cleaned up immediately the next morning. However, anger was still evident when Carmichael addressed a rally at Howard warning of violence on Friday morning and after the close of the rally, rioters walking down 7th Street NW came into violent confrontations with the DC Metropolitan Police Department, as well as in the H Street NE corridor. Around midday, numerous buildings were on fire, with firefighters attacked with bottles and rocks and unable to respond to them. By 1PM., the riot was in full effect.[1] Police unsuccessfully attempted to control the crowds using tear gas.[2]

Military intervention[edit]

On Friday, April 5, the White House dispatched some 13,600 federal troops, including 1,750 federalized D.C. National Guard troops to assist the overwhelmed District police force.[2] Marines mounted machine guns on the steps of the Capitol and Army troops from the 3rd Infantry guarded the White House. At one point, on April 5, rioting reached within two blocks of the White House before rioters retreated. The occupation of Washington was the largest of any American city since the Civil War.


By the time the city was considered pacified on Sunday, April 8, twelve had been killed (mostly in burning homes[citation needed]), 1,097 injured, and over 6,100 arrested. Additionally, some 1,200 buildings had been burned, including over 900 stores. Damages reached $27 million. This can be estimated to be equivalent to over $175 million today.

Aftermath from the riots

The riots utterly devastated Washington's inner city economy. With the destruction or closing of businesses, thousands of jobs were lost, and insurance rates soared. Made uneasy by the violence, city residents of all races accelerated their departure for suburban areas, depressing property values. Crime in the burned out neighborhoods rose sharply, further discouraging investment.

On some blocks, only rubble remained for decades. Columbia Heights and the U Street corridor did not begin to recover economically until the opening of the U Street and Columbia Heights Metro stations in 1991 and 1999, respectively, while the H Street NE corridor remained depressed for several years longer.

Walter Washington, who reportedly refused FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's suggestion to shoot the rioters,[3][4] went on to become the city's first elected mayor and its first black mayor.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Risen, Clay (2009). "April 5: 'Once That Line Has Been Crossed'". A nation on fire : America in the wake of the King assassination. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0-470-17710-5. 
  2. ^ a b Risen, Clay (2009). "April 5: 'Official Disorder on Top of Civil Disorder'". 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. ^ a b "First Black D.C. Mayor Walter Washington Dies", Jet (Johnson Publishing Company) 104 (20), November 10, 2003: 6, ISSN 0021-5996 
  4. ^ "Walter Washington, First Elected Mayor Under D.C. Home Rule, Dies." USA Today. October 27, 2003.


External links[edit]

  • The Riots of '68 (ghostsofdc.org) - video footage and photos of Washington after the riots
  • Records describing damage; hosted by the National Archive