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Every night in November 1968, National Guardsmen circled the streets in Wilmington, Delaware, armed with loaded rifles and ready to put down racial violence in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. Every so often, they’d stop to hassle Black residents, using racial slurs to refer to the people they’d been sent to the city to subdue.
Their job was to stop riots and looting from breaking out after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.—an event that had taken place seven months earlier. Though the city’s Black residents had rioted briefly after King’s murder and the mayor had requested a National Guard presence, the city was now at peace. Nonetheless, Delaware’s governor, Charles Terry, was convinced its Black residents would use any chance they could get to instigate more violence, and asked the National Guard to stay.
Lasting a full year, the occupation of Wilmington was the longest military occupation of an American city in history—and the most extreme response to riots that broke out in over 100 American cities after King’s murder on April 4, 1968. It only concluded with the election of a new governor in January 1969.
News that James Earl Ray had gunned down Martin Luther King, Jr. on a Memphis balcony hit the United States like a thunderbolt. King had been in Tennessee to support striking sanitation workers as part of his Poor People’s Campaign, and just the day before the assassination had delivered a rousing speech in which he said he wasn’t afraid of death.
King also told listeners that they could achieve social change without violence. “We don’t have to argue with anybody,” King said. “We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails.”
His words were pointed: King was under fire by members of the Black Power Movement who argued that nonviolent resistance was ineffective, and just the summer before, urban riots in Detroit and nearly 160 other cities had caused widespread destruction. Yet in response to King’s murder, expressions of grief and anger—including civil unrest and destruction of property—erupted around the country.
Though the riots were incited by King’s death, they had other causes. Segregation had been outlawed, but discriminatory housing policies, white flight to the suburbs, and income disparities pushed many Black urban residents into largely African American, low-income areas. These areas were often poorly maintained, and African Americans there were hassled by local police and underemployed.
READ MORE: Why Martin Luther King’s Family Believes James Earl Ray Was Not His Killer
Just a month before King’s death, officials in the tri-state area predicted that the same things that had made people riot in the summer of 1967 would precipitate new riots in 1968. “The approach of summer finds conditions as explosive as ever,” wrote The New York Times. Those conditions included unemployment, a lack of suitable housing and widespread discontentment over policing and schooling.
For many, King had represented the promise of a better life for African-Americans. But with his death, that hope seemed to have died, too. Black leaders like Floyd McKissick, director of the Congress of Racial Equality, tried to come to terms with King’s death and its meaning for the broader civil rights movement.
“Nonviolence is a dead philosophy and it was not the Black people that killed it,” he told a reporter from the New York Times the night of the assassination. “It was the white people that killed nonviolence and white racists at that.”
By then, though, King’s death had already helped spark the tinderbox of African American grievances in urban settings. As word of King’s murder rang through the streets of cities like Washington and Baltimore, people began to gather in public areas. Some sang songs and marched; other people’s mourning turned violent.
“People were out of control with anger and sadness and frustration,” Virginia Ali, who owned a chili restaurant in Washington, D.C., told Washingtonian in 2008. Rioters—many of them teenagers—began burning businesses and looting.
Starting April 4, civil disturbances broke out in places like Los Angeles, Trenton, New Jersey, Baltimore, and Chicago. Many cities had been taken aback by the violence of the “long, hot summer” of 1967, in which nearly 160 riots broke out nationwide and Detroit became a war zone during five days of rioting. In response, city officials had spent a year preparing for more unrest. So had the military, and as soon as riots broke out the U.S. Army began to mobilize using plans they’d developed in 1967.
President Lyndon B. Johnson was worried that leaders would respond with unnecessary force. After meeting with Black leaders in his office the night of the assassination, he contacted governors and mayors to ask them not to respond with too much force. Privately, though, Smithsonian notes, he bemoaned their reactions. “I’m not getting through,” Johnson told aides. “They’re all holing up like generals in a dugout getting ready to watch a war.”
Though Johnson spoke on national television asking the public to deny violence a victory, riots had already begun. Then, cities and states began to crack down. In Cincinnati, a curfew was established and 1,500 National Guardsmen flooded city streets. In Pittsburgh and Detroit, even more National Guard members headed in. In places like Baltimore, troops used bayonets and tear gas to keep protesters at bay. And in Washington, D.C., Johnson eventually sent in nearly 14,000 federal troops to subdue the violence.
Despite the unprecedented—and, in some viewers’ eyes, unwarranted—use of force, most cities were back to normal within weeks. Wilmington, however, was not. Though the city’s mayor asked the National Guard to leave after the violence subsided a week after King’s murder, Governor Terry ordered indefinite National Guard patrols that were widely regarded as ineffective and racist.
“The National Guard here has become a symbol of white suppression of the Black community,” city solicitor O. Francis Biondi told the New York Times in November 1968, seven months after the occupation began.
Some cities did sidestep the violence—Los Angeles used a coalition of police and social leaders to convince people not to riot, and in New York the city’s mayor, John Lindsay, kept riots at bay by begging citizens in Harlem not to succumb to violence. But though cities had different responses to King’s death, the nation continued to worry about what would come next for race relations in the United States.
“I don’t think young people understand the struggle during that time,” Ali told the Washingtonian. “I’m amazed we withstood it.”
America in Mourning After MLK's Shocking Assassination: Photos
Fact Check: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Did Not Support Riots
96,604 CC 2.0 via Wikipedia.org
CLAIM: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
VERDICT: True. However, Dr. King remained committed to non-violent protest and opposed to riots.
In the wake of the riots and looting that broke out with protests over the killing of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis, Minnesota, police last month, supporters of the cause have cited Dr. Martin Luther King’s quote on riots.
For example, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told Fox News Sunday last week: “Martin Luther King [Jr.] said many years ago that riot is the way that the unheard get heard.”
Ellison added, however — correctly — that Dr. King “didn’t condone it, but he said to the nation — as a person who always protested peacefully — that don’t just dismiss that and ignore it, and relegate it to just criminality and bad behavior.”
The quote comes from a speech that Dr. King delivered at Grosse Point High School in Michigan in March 1968, just weeks before he was assassinated.
King said that he could not condemn riots without condemning the “intolerable conditions that exist in our society.” But he made clear that he did not support rioting.
The full quote, in context (emphasis added):
Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.
The term “militant” has lately been used as a euphemism for “terrorist,” so the idea of “militant” non-violent action may be difficult to understand today. What Dr. King meant was that even radical change had to be pursued non-violently.
Dr. King’s principle of non-violence drew from Mahatma Gandhi’s philosophy of “satyagraha,” which relied on non-violence to appeal to the common humanity of the person against whom the protest was directed.
The Riots of ’68
Freddie Gray’s casket leaves the New Shiloh Baptist Church during his funeral in Baltimore April 27, 2015. At right, the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Photo by Sait Serkan Gurbuz/Reuters,Fotoware/ColorFactory
As smoke continues to rise above Baltimore, some are wondering whether the day’s events will prove as devastating to the city as the long and deadly riot that engulfed it in the spring of 1968. That uprising, which cost six people their lives, injured 700, and destroyed about 1,000 small businesses, was initially set off by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Not unlike the chaos we’ve seen Monday night, it began as a peaceful demonstration, and grew into something much more dangerous on the night of Saturday, April 6th, after a few fires were set, some windows were broken, and an 11 p.m. curfew was instituted by the mayor.
City officials have already invoked the specter of 1968 in their calls for looters to return to their homes. “We can not go back to 1968 where we burned down our own infrastructure and our own neighborhoods,” City Council President Jack Young was quoted as saying. “We still have scars from 1968, where we had some burnt out buildings, and businesses did not want to come back to the city of Baltimore.”
But drawing connections between the past and the present is rarely as straightforward as it might seem. To get a better sense of how much should be made of the similarities between what happened in 1968 and what’s happening now, I called Elizabeth M. Nix, assistant professor at the University of Baltimore, and a co-editor of the 2011 book, Baltimore ‘68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City.
Having studied the root causes and the actual events of the 1968 riots in Baltimore, do you think there are parallels to be drawn between then and now?
There are parallels in that the makings of the ’68 riots came long in advance of the uprisings themselves. A lot of the industrial profits the city had enjoyed during World War II had started to dry up, and a lot of people started to move to the suburbs. So a lot of people were seeing their city get poorer. Baltimore had also been suffering for many decades from racial segregation. There’s a really good book called Not in My Neighborhood that talks about how, early in the 20 th century, there were these laws that tried to break up Baltimore block by block, that said black people could live on these blocks and white people could live on these other blocks. So there were residential covenants that kept black people out of certain neighborhoods.
That had been going on for decades in Baltimore, and in ’68 many of the neighborhoods affected by it just exploded. And some of those are the same neighborhoods that are suffering the effects of today’s violence.
So there were these big economic shifts in the city that left these neighborhoods mired in poverty. Was there a feeling, even before the uprising began, that Baltimore was heading toward some kind of confrontation between the city’s poor black residents and those in power?
Actually, there was a Reader’s Digest article, published in the wake of the riots that had taken place in New Jersey and Detroit, called “Why Baltimore Won’t Riot.” And actually, the power structures of Baltimore felt explicitly that Baltimore wasn’t going to riot. I think probably in the African-American neighborhoods in Baltimore, there was a feeling that an uprising was certainly possible. And when that came to pass, the people in power were completely surprised by it.
It seems like there’s always some mystery surrounding how peaceful demonstrations give way to violence and looting. How did that transition occur in 1968?
Well, Reverend King was assassinated on a Thursday night—April 4 th . And in a lot of the other cities in America, violence broke out that very night. In Baltimore that wasn’t the case. Baltimore was calm. There were peaceful marches on Friday and Saturday and it wasn’t until Saturday night that fires started to break out and looting started. And then it really started in full on Sunday. So, Baltimore waited a number of days before it actually exploded. And then that violence lasted for about a week. And it’s still unclear exactly what started the real looting and arson in Baltimore. There were a few incidents that broke out almost at the same time along Gay Street—which is where we think the first arson started in 1968. So, I’m seeing this huge building burning on Gay Street right now—that’s where it was happening almost 50 years ago. That was where the arson started back then.
Was there a sense that the riots, once they got going on that first night, were going to last for a long time, or was there hope that they would dissipate?
There was a huge hope that they would dissipate. The Pats Family—their oral history is in the book—they felt so confident it was over on Sunday morning that they went shopping, and left their father asleep in their business right on North Avenue. Then they came down 83 and their street was on fire in the middle of Sunday morning. That was completely unexpected—even though the violence had started on Saturday night, they thought it was over. And that’s just a few blocks from where the CVS was burning today—it’s on the same street, West North Avenue.
Were there individuals who were organizing the riot, or was it simply chaos? Also, was there a sense that the looting was political, or had it just become a free-for-all without any political undercurrent?
‘That stain of bloodshed’: After King’s assassination, RFK calmed an angry crowd with an unforgettable speech
As darkness took hold on April 4, 1968, newly declared presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy stepped in front of a microphone atop a flatbed truck in a poor, predominantly black neighborhood in Indianapolis.
Looking out onto the crowd, Kennedy turned and quietly asked a city official, “Do they know about Martin Luther King?”
The civil rights leader had been shot a few hours earlier, though the news that he was dead hadn’t reached everyone yet.
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“We’ve left it up to you,” the official said.
What unfolded during the next six minutes, according to historians and Kennedy biographers, is one of the most compelling and overlooked speeches in U.S. political history — the brother of an assassinated president announcing another devastating assassination two months before he’d be killed, too.
“I have some very sad news for all of you, and, I think, sad news for all of our fellow citizens, and people who love peace all over the world,” the 42-year-old senator said in his thick Boston accent, “and that is that Martin Luther King was shot and was killed tonight in Memphis, Tennessee.”
Kennedy, wearing his brother’s overcoat and speaking without notes, quoted the Greek playwright Aeschylus — “Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart …” — and to the astonishment of his aides, the audience and even his own family, the senator referenced his brother’s murder for the first time.
“For those of you who are black and are tempted to fill with hatred and mistrust of the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I would only say that I can also feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling,” Kennedy said. “I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man.”
That night, amid one of the most chaotic years in American history, the country burned. Riots broke out in more than 100 cities, including Washington, where at least a dozen people died.
“I was upset, to put it mildly,” said Abie Washington, then 26 and just out of the Navy, who stood that evening in the crowd listening to Kennedy. “I was pissed. Something needed to be done and I wanted to do it.”
But as Kennedy kept speaking, something came over him.
“My level of emotion went from one extreme to another,” Washington said. “He had empathy. He knew what it felt like. Why create more violence?”
There was no rioting in Indianapolis.
‘Burn the city down’
They pleaded with Kennedy not to go — campaign aides, the police chief, his wife Ethel.
It was too dangerous, they said. Residents near the rally site had seen angry men carrying weapons and cans of gas.
“The black people in this neighborhood,” one resident told historian Thurston Clarke, “were going to burn the city down.”
Kennedy, who won a Senate seat from New York after serving as his brother’s attorney general, had jumped into the presidential race on March 16, 1968. He did not have a particularly close relationship with King, having once authorized wiretapping of his phones at the request of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover.
But Kennedy had come to greatly respect King, his campaign echoing the concerns of the civil rights leader for the poor and disenfranchised.
Kennedy learned that King had been shot as he boarded a plane for Indianapolis. When it landed, a reporter told Kennedy that King was dead.
“Kennedy’s face went blank and he jerked his head backward, as if the bullet struck him, too,” Clarke wrote in “The Last Campaign,” an account of Kennedy’s 82-day run for president. “Then he covered his face with his hands and murmured, ‘Oh God, when is this violence going to stop?’ ”
One of Kennedy’s campaign staffers was John Lewis, who had already risked his life to defy segregation alongside King and would later become a congressman from Georgia. Lewis urged Kennedy not to cancel the speech.
“I thought Bobby Kennedy coming would have a cooling impact on the audience,” Lewis said in an interview. “He appealed to the hearts and the minds and souls of the people there — black and white.”
On the car ride over, Kennedy was nearly silent, staring out the window and undoubtedly, his aides said later, thinking about his brother.
Arriving at the park, he was greeted with jeers.
“What are you doing here, whitey?” someone shouted.
And then Kennedy began speaking.
“He spoke in a prayerful, mournful fashion,” Lewis said.
King’s death, Kennedy said, left the black community with a choice about how to respond, whether to seek revenge.
“We can move in that direction as a country, in greater polarization … black people amongst blacks, and white amongst whites, filled with hatred toward one another,” Kennedy said. “Or we can make an effort, as Martin Luther King did, to understand, and to comprehend, and replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed that has spread across our land, with an effort to understand, compassion, and love.”
“What we need in the United States,” he continued, “is not division what we need in the United States is not hatred what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”
A sense of grace washed over the crowd.
Two Purdue University speech professors later interviewed audience members and published a paper examining the shift in the crowd. One man told the professors that Kennedy had “tears in his eyes, I saw it, he felt it man, he cried.”
But how, the professors asked, could they relate to a white rich man?
“We black people remember his brother,” one person interviewed said. “We know what trouble is, we had all kinds of it.”
Another man said, “The cat tell the truth like it is.”
The threat of violence subsided. Everyone went home.
The ‘music of politics’
In 2006, political writer Joe Klein published “Politics Lost,” a book examining how politicians had become “more interested in keeping power than in doing what’s right for America.” He began with Kennedy’s speech that night in April 1968.
“Kennedy’s words,” Klein wrote, “stand as a sublime example of the substance and music of politics in its grandest form, for its highest purpose — to heal, to educate, to lead.” He argued that consultants and pollsters have “robbed public life of much of its romance and vigor.”
However inspiring it was, Kennedy’s speech remains largely unknown among ordinary Americans. But that might be changing.
“A Ripple of Hope,” a 2008 public television documentary about the speech, has become available on Amazon’s streaming video service and is reappearing on TV, thanks to the 50th anniversary of King’s death.
Sorrow, Then Rage
Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination shook Chicago, and ignited riots on the city&aposs West Side.
Hear from people who were there.
The news came on a Thursday evening 50 years ago. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead by a white man in Memphis.
On the West Side of Chicago, there was an eerie silence. That’s how one pastor ꃞscribed it.
Maybe it was because King had walked these same West Side streets, had lived here, and though it would be ignored by most media and left out of textbooks, King had delivered his national call for economic justice here in Chicago.
After the lunch counter sit-ins in Birmingham, Alabama, after the voting rights marches farther south in Selma, King brought his campaign for civil rights to the North — and he picked Chicago.
He saw his Chicago campaign as a critical next phase of the civil rights movement, one that would be about more than race: In Chicago, King called for a doubling of the minimum wage, a government-guaranteed minimum income, and fair funding for all schools. It was a campaign to 𠇎nd slums.” King wanted massive investment in areas like North Lawndale, where he rented a dilapidated apartment to make his point.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, wave to a crowd in the street from a window of the apartment he rented in Chicago. (Edward Kitch/AP Photo)
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta Scott King, wave to a crowd in the street from a window of the apartment he rented in Chicago. (Edward Kitch/AP Photo)
The West Side at the time was filled with African-American migrants who had come North in search of a better life. Instead, they found low wages, unemployment, inferior schools, redlining, and exploitative landlords and shopkeepers.
Now, in the eerie silence after King’s death, maybe the words King had spoken in Chicago echoed one more time.
Echoed in the third floor slum apartment on 16th Street and Hamlin Avenue that King had rented in 1966, with the door to the street that wouldn’t lock and the entryway that smelled of piss. Echoed at Stone Temple Baptist Church, where the crowds were so big, King had to enter the church through the fire escape. At the Lawndale pool hall where King played, and at nearby Marshall High School, where students had cheered his arrival.
After the eerie silence came the rage. The first firebombing was on the West Side. In the following days, there were fires and destruction in other parts of the city, too, but nothing like the West Side. Madison Street (where King had liked to eat), Kedzie, Roosevelt — they were all in flames. Black teenagers put fists and feet through the windows of white-owned businesses. They grabbed shoes and televisions.
A window in Chicago the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.&aposs assassination. (Tom Kneebone/Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)
A window in Chicago the day after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.&aposs assassination. (Tom Kneebone/Courtesy of the Chicago History Museum)
There were riots — some people call them rebellions — in Harlem, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Chicago’s West Side calmed after three days, and by then, at least nine people had been killed.
Much of what King said in Chicago would feel unnervingly relevant after the flames were put out. Fifty years later, they still feel relevant in the neighborhoods King came to boost up.
King was asked frequently about riots. He always condemned them. But he also said, 𠇊merica must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots.” A riot “is the language of the unheard,” he said.
This week, to mark the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination and the city’s response to his murder, we present stories from Chicagoans who have a personal connection to that moment.
Prexy Nesbitt’s family were members of the Warren Avenue Congregational Church, where King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference set up its Chicago headquarters. Nesbitt marched with King in Marquette Park, and worked with other members of the Chicago Freedom Movement to attack structural racism and economic inequalities.
AP Language and Composition 1
Having a great thesis and introduction are must haves for this blog post. If you did not watch the video about writing a GREAT thesis statement, you MUST. It it the video that will change your entire essay approach. Having a great thesis demands that you use ideas INSTEAD of devices and that makes the entire essay different.
So, I am going to give you a prompt. Your job is to write a GREAT thesis statement based on one of the formula's from the video. UNDERLINE IT inside of your GREAT introduction.
In the comments, you MUST challenge any thesis statements and introductions that are NOT great because on Monday, you will draw an introduction (which will contain a thesis) out of a grab bag and will have to write your essay based on whichever you choose. If they are ALL great, there should be no problem writing the essay and conclusion for it.
Here is the prompt I want you to use for the GREAT introduction which will contain a GREAT thesis statement.
(Suggested time minutes. On the tenth anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., labor union organizer and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez published an article in the magazine of a religious organization devoted to helping those in need. Read the following excerpt from the article carefully. Then, in a well-written essay, analyze the rhetorical choices Chavez makes to develop his argument about nonviolent resistance.
Use this link to go the essay in it's entirety. Scroll to page 9.
Paul F. was just starting up his begal business. He started out small just selling beagles to a few businesses, but as he predicted his small time begal business took off and he was selling to many big names. However, he did not expect that the numbers would be so showing. Paul F. has just found that many people have been lying, cheating, and stealing.
The introduction was supposed to be about the prompt mentioned in the last part of the blog, so about Cesar Chavez and his writing!
Throughout history there have been many protest but in those protest there is a recurring theme, this is that most of the protest that actually changed something were peaceful. Labor union organizer and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez wrote an article about the power and importance of peaceful protest on the tenth anniversary of Martin Luther King juniors death. chavez main point of the text was to give reasons to why peaceful protest are more powerful. i think that Chavez was right and that peaceful protest actually make a point and show people that you want a change.
In the thesis, you should talk of HOW the author conveys his message. You mentioned that the author wanted to convince his audience why peaceful protest is more powerful, but what ideas does Chavez use to prove that? For example, you could say Chavez argues the dignity of human life is more valuable than anything, and therefore violence only results in a net loss (In the actual thesis, that example might be written as, “. revealing violence only ends in a loss,”).
Photos: The Rampage That Came After Martin Luther King Jr. Was Slayed
In the week following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, a fury of riots broke out in dozens of cities across the United States. The rampage left 39 dead, 21,000 arrested, more than 2,600 injured and was responsible for damages estimated at $65 million. Not since the Civil War had the country been subject to such a violent and widespread wave of social unrest. The above photos and following story, which originally appeared in the April 15, 1968 issue of Newsweek, provide a behind-the-scenes look at the looting and burning of the cities and the toll it ultimately took on the nation.
"Take Everything You Need, Baby"
It was Pandora's box flung open&mdashan apocalyptic act that loosed the furies brooding in the shadows of America's sullen ghettos. From Washington to Oakland, Tallahassee to Denver, the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis last week touched off a black rampage that subjected the U.S. to the most widespread spasm of racial disorder in its violent history.
The fire this time made Washington look like the besieged capital of a banana republic with helmeted combat troops, bayoneted rifles at the ready, guarding the White House and a light-machine gun post defending the steps of the Capitol. Huge sections of Chicago's West Side ghetto were put to the torch. The National Guard was called out there and in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and in four Southern cities, and put on alert in Philadelphia and Boston. In New York, Mayor John V. Lindsay was heckled from a Harlem street by an angry crowd. In Minneapolis, a Negro vowed to kill the first honky he saw&mdashand promptly shot his white neighbor to death. "My King is dead," he sobbed, after pumping half a dozen bullets into his victim.
Negro college campuses seethed with anger and sometimes harbored snipers. Dozens of high schools canceled classes after violence erupted between Negro and white students. Window-breaking, rock-throwing, looting and other acts of vandalism struck a score of cities, large and small. Washington, Chicago, Detroit and Toledo tried to enforce dusk-to-dawn curfews. Bars, liquor stores and gun shops were closed in many places, but usually not before ghetto blacks had stocked up on alcohol and ammunition. Throughout the country, already-overburdened police and firemen went on emergency shifts. By the weekend, the death toll around the U.S. stood at more than twenty and was rising, uncounted thousands were under arrest (more than 4,000 in Washington alone) and property damage was incalculable.
King's assassination was quite clearly the proximate cause of it all&mdashbut the rioters' anger and grief was often hard to detect. The Chicago mobs were ugly and obviously well schooled in the use of fire bombs. But in Washington the looters had a Mardi Gras air about them. Around the country, whites were jeered, threatened and occasionally assaulted, but the crowds generally avoided confrontations with the police. The police, too, did their best to keep bloodshed at a minimum. Indeed, in city after city, the cops were under orders not to interfere with looting. And it was quite apparent that the rioters' main target was to loot, not shoot honkies. "Soul Brother" signs afforded Negro businessmen little of the protection they assured in past riots. The plunderers&mdashled by black teen-agers&mdashsmashed and burned almost indiscriminately.
'Guns': Washington, which is 66 percent Negro but which had been almost untouched by the last four riotous summers, was the hardest hit this time. Minutes after the news of King's death was broadcast, crowds began to gather on the edges of the Capital's sprawling ghettos. They did not have to wait long for a leader. Into the volatile mix swept black power-monger Stokely Carmichael spouting incendiary rhetoric. "Go home and get your guns," cried Carmichael. "When the white man comes he is coming to kill you. I don't want any black blood in the street. Go home and get you a gun and then come back because I got me a gun"&mdashand he brandished what looked like a small pistol.
Roving bands of black teen-agers&mdashunarmed so far as anyone could tell&mdashwere already darting into Washington's downtown shopping district, fires were beginning to light the night sky and Washington's relatively small (2,900-man) police force went on the alert. The plundering and burning lasted until dawn, then subsided&mdashonly to resume with far greater intensity the next day.
Friday was a crisp spring day in the Capital. The cherry blossoms were in bloom and the city was thronged with tourists who gawked in amazement through the tinted windows of their sightseeing buses as the rampage resumed.
The Frisk: At his storefront headquarters, Stokely Carmichael helped feed the flames with more violent talk&mdashall of it delivered in a soft, gentle voice to newsmen (who were frisked and relieved of such potential weapons as nail clippers before being admitted to his presence). "When white America killed Dr. King," said Carmichael, who bitterly opposed King's nonviolent stance, " she declared war on us . We have to retaliate for the deaths of our leaders. The executions of those deaths [are] going to be in the streets . " Did Carmichael, 27, fear for his own life? "The hell with my life," he snapped at a white reporter. "You should fear for yours. I know I'm going to die." Later, he turned up at a memorial service for King at Howard University, waving a gun on the platform.
As the day wore on, the turmoil increased. Looting and burning swept down 14th Street and 7th Street, two of the ghetto's main thoroughfares, then spread south to the shopping district just east of the White House. On the sidewalk in front of the Justice Department's headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue, shirt-sleeved DOJ staffers watched helplessly as looters cleaned out Kaufman's clothing store. The story was the same all over. Without the force to control the situation, the cops let the looters run wild. The result was an eerie, carni­val atmosphere. Jolly blacks dashed in and out of shattered shop windows carry­ing their booty away in plain sight of the Jaw. Others tooled through the shopping districts in late-model cars, pausing to 611 them with loot and then speeding off­ only to stop obediently for red lights.
Looters stopped on the sidewalks to try on new sports jackets and to doff their old shoes for stolen new ones. Only rare­ly did police interfere. At the corner of 14th and G Streets, police braced a Ne­gro over a car. On the hood were several pairs of shoes. "They killed my brother, they killed Luther King," the culprit cried. "Was he stealing shoes when they killed him?" retorted a cop.
Marketing: White reporters moved among the plunderers with impunity. "Take a good look, baby," a looter cried to a carload of newsmen as he emerged from a liquor store on H Street. "In fact, have a bottle"&mdashand he tossed a fifth of high-priced Scotch into the car. Young black girls and mothers, even 7- and 8-year-old children, roamed the streets with shopping carts, stocking up on gro­ceries. "Cohen's is open," chirped one woman to friends as she headed for a sacked dry-goods store with the noncha­lance of a matron going marketing. "Take everything you need, baby," Negroes called to each other from shattered store windows. Mingling with the crowds on Pennsylvania Avenue were observers from the German, French, Japanese, Norwegian and other embassies, taking notes to cable home. "It's a revolution," a French Embassy attache remarked to his companion.
It wasn't. But the sacking of Washing­ton was ugly enough. By midafternoon&mdashwith an acrid pall of smoke hanging over the White House and looting going on less than two blocks away&mdashfrightened whites and Negro office workers tried desperately to get home, creating a mas­sive traffic jam. Telephone lines were clogged, water pressure was running low and at least 70 fires were blazing. White House aide Joseph Califano set up a special command post to monitor the sit­uation right on the Presidential doorstep. Finally, Lyndon Johnson declared that the Capital was caught up in "conditions of. violence and disorder" and as Commander in Chief he first called in some 6,500 Army and National Guard troops, including a contingent stationed on the grounds of the White House itself.
Stability: When looters and pillagers continued to roam the streets, the Presi­dent ordered in 6,000 more Federal troops. And by late Saturday night, the combined forces finally restored some semblance of stability to the Capital.
If the Washington disorders had a bi­zarre gaiety to them, the scene in Chi­cago&mdashwhere King had led an abortive "End Slums" campaign in 1966&mdashwas bit­tersweet. Deadly sniper fire crackled in the South Side slums, and the West Side&mdashthe scene of two major riots since 1965&mdashblazed with more fires than any­one could count. There was no mistaking the anger of the young blacks, who watched with solemn satisfaction as whole blocks went up in flames. "This is the only answer," said one studious-look­ing Negro youth as he peered at the flames through gold-framed spectacles. "It feels good," said another, munching a vanilla ice-cream cone. "I never felt so good before. When they bury King, we gonna bury Chicago."
With the tongues of flame dancing against the sky, the talk of the streets sounded like an invitation to Armaged­don. "I thought I was dead until they killed the King," intoned a 24-year-old gang leader in a black leather coat. "They killed the King and I came to life. We gonna die fighting. We all gonna die fighting."
There was little fighting in Chicago. But at least nine Negroes were killed there, mostly in the act of looting. As elsewhere, the police who pegged shots at looters were the exceptions to the rule. And so the plundering went on al­most unopposed. Along Kedzie Avenue on the West Side, Negroes carried arm­fuls and cartloads of booty from ravaged storefronts. "I'm a hard man and I want some revenge," explained one. "King's dead and he ain't ever gonna get what he wanted. But we're alive, man, and we're getting what we want."
'Bums': Nearby, a Negro woman begged the vandals to stop. "Come out of that store and leave that stuff," she shouted. "You all nothing but bums. Ain't we got enough trouble with our neigh­borhood burning down? Where are those people gonna live after you burn them down?" Unhearing&mdashor uncaring&mdashthe looters ignored her.
Chicago Mayor Richard Daley had pleaded for peace on TV after King's murder, but his words, too, fell on deaf ears. Finally, with vast areas of the slums in chaos, the National Guard was or­dered in. Three thousand guardsmen­, many of them black-rolled into the ghet­to, with 3,000 more held in reserve. The troops patrolled mostly in four-man Jeeps: a driver armed with a pistol, one man with a carbine and two armed with M-1 rifles. Unlike the green and trigger­happy guard units who performed so in­eptly in Detroit and Newark last summer, the lllinois troops were poised enough to handle matters with a minimum of blood­shed. But when the situation heated up again the next day, state officials re­quested that 5,000 Federal soldiers be deployed to back up the guard. In the end, 12,500 troops were required to bring Chicago back under shaky control.
With disorder sweeping the country, New York, which suffered the nation's first major riot in 1964, braced for trou­ble. It came soon enough. The immediate post-assassination hours brought a spate of window-breaking and looting to Har­lem and in the teeming Bedford-Stuyvesant slum in Brooklyn. Mayor John Lind­say, whose walking tours of the ghettos helped keep the city cool last summer, sped to Harlem to commiserate with the crowds over King's death and defuse the situation. He walked along 125th Street, patting passers-by on the back, then took a bullhorn to speak to the crowds. In a quivering, emotional voice, he began by addressing the Negroes as "Brothers"&mdasha term soul-minded blacks like to use. The mayor barely got in another word. "You got some nerve using that word," one angry youth shouted at Lindsay. Others hurled obscenities at the mayor.
Plea: The next night, Negro youths rode subways to midtown, breaking windows in shops near Central Park and dogtrot­ting through Times Square. But the po­lice were ready for them, deftly breaking up the roving bands and maintaining order without firing a shot. At the week­end, the mayor was back on the city's slum streets for the third night in a row ­and, in the end, he prevailed as an ef­fective force in keeping the racial lid from blowing off in New York. Amidst rising tensions, Lindsay had gone on television to plead for continued calm&mdash"lt especially depends on the determi­nation of the young men of this city to respect our laws and the teachings of the martyr, Martin Luther King"&mdashand to promise better days ahead. "We can work together again for progress and peace in this city and this nation," he said, "for now I believe we are ready to scale the mountain from which Dr. King saw the promised land."
Perhaps he was right. But the convul­sions unleashed by a sniper in Memphis left the nation with ominous questions still to be answered. Were last week's riots a final paroxysm that might purge angry emotions and clear the way for reconciliation? Or were the pictures of the machine gun on the Capitol steps and Chicago in flames only premonitions of an America without Martin Luther King?
How The Media Covered Martin Luther King Jr.’s Assassination In 1968
On April 5, 1968 — the day after King’s assassination — newspapers reported the news using large text and photos of King, his family and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tenn.
The story of King’s assassination made the front pages of publications printed all over the United States, and his impact reached many around the world.
In addition to news reports and updates on the event, newspapers also ran editorials denouncing the assassin’s deed and calling for peace.
Reporting On The Reactions
“Crowd Awaits Plane Returning King’s Body” proclaimed The Atlanta Journal on its front page April 5, 1968. Around 100 mourners had gathered at the Atlanta airport to wait for King’s body, according to the story. The Atlanta Journal also ran a story about Republicans pushing for civil rights legislation in the wake of King’s death.
Mentioning that King was Nobel Peace Prize winner, The Atlanta Constitution reported on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s response to the murder, the curfew that was imposed in Memphis and a police bulletin for a “young, dark-haired white man” who was seen fleeing the scene in a car.
Both publications also noted the riots that took place across the country.
“Violence Grips Nation’s Cities” was a headline that appeared in The Atlanta Journal on April 5, 1968. The corresponding story was attributed to The Associated Press and reported on three deaths and numerous injuries that might have been related to the riots that took place around the country.
The front cover of The Atlanta Journal on April 5, 1968. (Courtesy of Atlanta History Center)
The Atlanta Constitution ran its own front-page story reporting on a fire that was started in a grocery store at Fair and Ashby streets in Atlanta and that a window of a car parked by the civic center had been smashed by a brick.
“There are a lot of editorials like pleading for calm, you know, that the nation should remain calm during this tragedy,” said Kat Wilmot, a print news archivist at Washington, D.C.’s Newseum, which opened a new exhibit this year that looks at the tumultuous events that surrounded King’s death in 1968.
“And especially, they talk about President Johnson’s speech about rejecting blind violence and that Dr. King wouldn’t want violence to occur, because he was so against that.”
The front page of The Atlanta Constitution on April 5, 1968. (Courtesy of Atlanta History Center)
As Time Passed
The conversation continued in the media months after King’s death. Newspapers kept readers updated on the search for James Earl Ray. The Associated Press reported on his going to jail and details about a room he allegedly rented in Canada.
The editorials continued as well. Students and professors used campus newspapers to address racial segregation and discrimination in their universities.
A Mercer University student named Gary Johnson wrote multiple columns in his college’s student newspaper, the “Mercer Cluster.” On April 23, Johnson’s column addressed racial segregation on his campus and demanded quick change.
“During the past several weeks, the phrases, ‘I have a dream!’ and ‘We shall overcome!’ have echoed throughout this nation,” Johnson wrote. “And in reply the phrases echoed back have been, ‘Give us time to adjust!’ and ‘Wait!'”
Johnson asked, why should black Americans wait for something they should already have? Johnson quoted King in another editorial that was published on May 24, 1968.
Two political science professors at the University of Georgia, William O. Chittick and Michael Cohen, wrote about polarization in the student newspaper, “The Red and Black.” Their co-authored editorial appeared in the April 18, 1968 issue.
“We call upon the University of Georgia community — its students, faculty, staff, administration, and all the organizations which are a part of it — to become more active in helping the struggle of black Americans to attain equality of resources and opportunities,” they wrote.
“Only time will tell if Dr. King’s death was in vain, but time will run out quickly.”
Connections To Today
Patty Rhule, a founding editor of USA Today and the director of exhibit development at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., said reporting on King’s death was reflective of the makeup of newsrooms in 1968.
“If you think about it, who was in charge of the mainstream newspapers and publications? Um, white guys!” Rhule said. “There weren’t a whole lot of women in newsrooms at that time. Certainly not a whole lot of black Americans in newsrooms telling their story.”
“How could stories of what life was like under segregation, under racism, be told if you did not have people who are experiencing those stories on your staffs?” she added.
Rhule also said a lot of the issues of 1968 find similar parallels today.
“It was kind of amazing when we were researching this (1968) exhibit, when we saw the things that people were protesting for: economic injustice, mistreatment of African Americans by police — all those things — you know, human rights,” Rhule said.
“Fifty years later, we’re still dealing with some of the same issues.”
After Martin Luther King’s death, James Brown calmed a tense Boston
James Brown was flanked by City Councilor Thomas Atkins (left) and Mayor Kevin White at Boston Garden, the day of the concert. Globe Staff/File
T ruth be told, James Brown was always more Bruno Mars than Kendrick Lamar.
With incendiary lyrics and performances, Lamar takes aim at racial injustice and police violence. Mars, meanwhile, is an entertainer who makes songs that are played at wedding receptions.
And Brown, first and foremost, was an entertainer.
This is not to denigrate one of the most dynamic and iconic performers ever. It’s only to state that 50 years ago Brown was an unlikely hero during one of the most racially charged moments in Boston’s difficult history.
On April 5, 1968, Brown was scheduled to play the Boston Garden, one day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. With communities nationwide in flames, the violence of King’s death was answered with mayhem born of grief, disenfranchisement, and anger. City officials feared Boston, which was already experiencing some violence and looting, would be next.
A store on Blue Hill Avenue in Roxbury burned during unrest after the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. Globe Staff/File
Hoping to deter further unrest, Boston’s new mayor, Kevin White, urged Brown to go forward with the show, and he talked him into allowing it to be televised live on WGBH. White wanted people in their living rooms instead of the streets.
Only 2,000 people attended the concert in the 14,000-seat Garden. When overzealous fans began to swarm Brown near the end of the show, he first had to calm the police who, primed for a riot, tried to forcibly remove them from the stage. Brown then turned his attention to the young people around him — shaking their hands and allowing them to dance with him. When they were slow to leave the stage, Brown spoke directly to them.
“You makin’ me look bad,” he said like a scolding parent. “I asked you to step down and you wouldn’t and that’s wrong. You’re not being fair to yourselves and me neither . . . or your race. Now I asked the authorities to step back because I thought I could get some respect from my own people.”
Brown would get that respect. “Now are we together or ain’t we?” After a loud cheer, he continued the show.
According to published reports, there were minor skirmishes in Boston that night, but nothing approaching the riots that city officials initially feared.
In his 2005 book, “I Feel Good: A Memoir of a Life of Soul,” Brown wrote, “Even though I was going to take a financial bath, I knew I had to go on and keep the peace. There are some things more important than money.”
Of course, since we’re talking about the “Godfather of Soul,” the real story is more complicated. Brown thought he would lose box office money since his concert would be televised he demanded $60,000 from the city to make up for lost ticket sales. To borrow a line from one of his songs, Brown didn’t take no mess when it came time for him to get paid.
In America, black existence is an act of defiance. Today, we’re not just accustomed to our artists taking stances — we expect it. Especially for groups marginalized by the current administration, the stakes are too high for bystanders to be tolerated. From Beyoncé to Janelle Monae, artists understand how to use their platform and power. A few days after Chance the Rapper tweeted he found a Heineken beer ad “terribly racist,” the company pulled the spot. Lamar’s performances, which have included black bodies falling at the sounds of gunfire, and a vandalized police car, are like dispatches from a relentless war most Americans prefer to ignore.
Hip-hop may have found its heartbeat in Brown’s hypnotic riffs, but not its politics. Brown largely shunned the politics of his time. “Soul Brother Number One” — he bestowed upon himself several honorifics, and deserved every one — was down with his fans inasmuch as they bought his records and attended his shows. Yet unlike Nina Simone (“Mississippi Goddam”), Sam Cooke (“A Change is Gonna Come”), or the Impressions (“People Get Ready”), Brown wasn’t singing about the trials his people faced, although he did perform at a 1966 civil rights rally at historically black Tougaloo College in Mississippi and donated money to the Congress of Racial Equality. Mostly, though, Brown’s salve for what vexed his fans aimed for the hips, not the head.
Demonstrators at the State House in Boston, the day after King’s assassination. Globe Staff/File
This didn’t sit well with civil rights activists, who wanted Brown’s presence to shine a bigger spotlight on their cause. There’s even an apocryphal story that claims Brown finally came correct after the Black Panthers allegedly left a grenade, pin intact, in his dressing room.
Whether or not that story is true, four months after he “saved” Boston, Brown released “Say It Loud: I’m Black and I’m Proud.” King’s assassination and its bloody aftermath politicized Brown’s music in 1968. Another likely influence were memories that night in Boston Garden when his community turned to him for affirmation and salvation. Lyrically unlike anything Brown had previously recorded — or would again — it was a funky Molotov cocktail of a jam.
Some people say we’ve got a lot of malice
Some say it’s a lot of nerve
But I say we won’t quit moving until we get what we deserve
We have been ‘buked and we have been scorned
We’ve been treated bad, talked about as sure as you’re born
But just as sure as it takes two eyes to make a pair
Brother, we can’t quit until we get our share
Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud!
From Boston to Oakland, from Dallas to Detroit, it instantly became the new black national anthem. It was the soundtrack of a movement still mourning King, and tired of being polite. No song had ever made black pride such a definitive statement. Black wasn’t a burden, or a yoke around one’s neck that invited suspicion or derision. Fierce, beautiful, and proud, we were ready to collect on this nation’s long overdue debt.
“This was not going to be another hit record by a Black entertainer like my dear friend Sammy Davis Jr.’s ‘Candy Man,’” Brown wrote about the song he said was “heavily influenced” by King’s murder. “This was the real thing, a wake up call, a rallying cry, a statement of pride.”
During a concert at New York’s famed Apollo Theatre earlier in 1968, Brown said, “I’m more than just an artist. I want you to know that I’m a man — a black man — a soul brother.”
Still, Brown was also a businessman reluctant to alienate any potential audience — Republicans buy records, too. After initially supporting 1968 Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, he backed President Richard Nixon in time to play “Say It Loud” at an inaugural gala dominated by rich white Republicans.
President Nixon and Brown in the Oval Office in 1972. Brown performed at one of Nixon’s inaugural galas. Getty Images/File
He endorsed Nixon again in 1972, leading some African-Americans to boycott his records and concerts. Later, he expressed his admiration for Ronald Reagan.
In 1999, Brown went even further. He called virulent segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond one of his heroes and “like a grandfather to me.” I shudder to think how Brown might have tried to embrace President Trump.
Brown performed at the Garden on April 5, 1968, the day after King was assassinated. Globe Staff/file
Like many admired people, Brown’s reputation wilts under close scrutiny. He answered to no one, and this often came at the expense of those around him, including his band members. He was especially cruel to the women in his life, terrorizing and abusing them. In 2004, he was arrested on charges of domestic violence against his fourth wife 10 years later, his daughter Yamma Brown spoke of the violence suffered by her mother, Brown’s second wife, in her memoir “Cold Sweat: My Father James Brown and Me.”
Still, more than a decade after his death, many willfully choose to separate the art from the artist and remember Brown as one of the most influential entertainers in history. He’s there in Mick Jagger’s white-boy skitter Prince’s impeccable showmanship and Bruce Springsteen, on the brink of exhaustion, summoning one more encore. From Public Enemy to Kanye West to Childish Gambino, Brown’s indelible riffs are threaded into hip-hop’s DNA.
Brown will always hold a special place in the soul of this city, the one that didn’t burn a half century ago. For a few anxious hours on a stage in a mostly-empty Boston Garden, Brown embraced his community, soothed the unimaginable grief that still haunts this nation, and helped keep Boston whole.
Housing laws followed King’s assassination
King’s assassination on April 4, 1968, set off 10 days of riots in which 43 people died and 27,000 were arrested. Author Peter Levy called it "the greatest wave of social unrest since the Civil War" in his book titled "The Great Uprising: Race Riots in Urban America in the 1960s.".
Clay Risen, author of “A Nation in Flames: America in the Wake of the King Assassination,” estimated the damage at $65 million. The uprisings — taking place in between 125 to 196 cities — ended after Johnson deployed 58,000 National Guardsmen and Army troops to join state and local law enforcement.
At the same time, Johnson urged Congress to pick up the stalled Federal Fair Housing Act, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
King had pushed for fair housing practices, but some lawmakers resisted action at a time when a majority of Americans opposed substantial numbers of black people moving into their neighborhoods.
Johnson proposed legislation to ban segregation for renters and prospective home buyers in 1966. It passed the House in August 1967 and made it through the Senate with amendments in March 1968, the same month that Johnson announced he would not seek re-election. But then it entered legislative limbo in the House Rules Committee "which had long acted as a brake on civil rights initiatives," according to a history compiled by the House.
The day after King’s assassination, Johnson urged Congress to pass the legislation as soon as possible. It did, and Johnson signed the law on April 11, a week after King’s assassination.
"With people angry in the streets, it made sense for Congress to pass legislation aimed at showing continued progress on the racial front," said Lopez D. Matthews Jr., digital librarian at Howard University.
While Johnson already supported the housing law, the explosion of anger following King’s assassination had an impact on him, said Robert Dallek, a historian and author of the book "Flawed Giant: Lyndon Johnson and his Times."
"Johnson was sensitive to that. I think it helped him get the Fair Housing Law of 1968 passed through Congress," Dallek said.
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of "Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream," said Johnson wrote in his memoir about meeting with civil rights leaders the morning after King’s death and spoke about seizing the opportunity to pass a housing law. While advisers suggested an executive order, Johnson wanted the force of congressional approval.
Charlamagne was referring to a separate piece of legislation, the Housing and Urban Development Act of 1968. Johnson signed it into law in August 1968. That legislation set a goal to build 26 million housing units, of which 6 million would be for low- or moderate-income housing.
The legislation was a continuation of the earlier legislation. King’s death and the riots “gave Johnson an additional boost to put that major housing law across,” Dallek said.
A spokeswoman for Charlamagne sent us an article by Shelter Force, a community development organization that supports low-income communities, which stated that this was the more important law signed by Johnson about housing that year. The act included homeownership studies, rental assistance and an increase in public housing construction.