After the 1968 riots 7th & N St NW. Image by Lorie Shaull used with permission.

Today, Washington, DC remembers the 50th anniversary of the 1968 civil uprising, which took place between April 4 and 8. Downtown DC, Logan Circle, Capitol Hill, Shaw, and Columbia Heights were at the center of the civic uprisings sparked by anger over Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination and longstanding discrimination. Twelve people died and hundreds of businesses were decimated. The military, more than 13,000 strong, arrived in an attempt to contain the crowds. Their presence became an indelible part of the city's history.

The links below are just some of the interesting ways local and national publications are recognizing the anniversary.

Immediately before the riots following the assasination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Image by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

From The Washington Post:

This interactive series combines a gripping narrative, first hand accounts, video interviews, archival footage, and law enforcement data to show the enormous effects of the 1968 civic unrest in DC. This short video shows the massive amount of damage to the city:

From The Atlantic:

The Atlantic’s collection of photos depicts the precipitating event — the assassination — and the subsequent upheaval. It is especially jarring to see an image of a memorial contrasted with plumes of smoke from fires set throughout the city. The photo series also juxtaposes archival photos with modern day images to show how buildings and businesses have changed.

From WAMU:

Throughout the week, WAMU will be adding to its “When Washington Burned” series, with original reporting reflecting on the way the city changed after 1968.

Circle Music, 1101 H Street, NE after the April 1968 riot. Image by rockcreek licensed under Creative Commons.

From Gallaudet University:

This student film with footage from 1968 shows Gallaudet students surveying the damage in DC. They pass troops on patrol, crumpled cars, and burned buildings.

From Greater Greater Washington:

In 2011, GGWash contributor John Muller wrote about the legacy of the uprisings and the Kerner Commission's report on the causes of the previous year's unrest in Detroit (see the “other reading” section, below).

Events and exhibits:

  • March and vigil at Ben’s Chili Bowl, 7 pm: During the upheaval, Ben’s stayed open and provided residents with a place to sleep and eat. Guests at the march and vigil will include Mayor Bowser and local LGBTQ, anti-gun violence, and Black Lives Matter activists.
  • AIA DC’s Architecture Month, April 3 through April 30: AIA DC is focusing on the ways DC’s buildings have changed since 1968.
  • City of Hope, Smithsonian Museum of American History, ongoing: The story of DC in 1968 wouldn’t be complete without discussing Resurrection City. This was an urban encampment on the Mall whose inhabitants were advocating for economic equality. The American History Museum exhibit contains historical footage and photos of this important campaign.

14th Street NW following the riots after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, composite with present day in 2015. Image by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

Other reading:

  • From The Detroit Free Press: Before Washington, there was Detroit. In 1967, widespread uprisings broke out after police raided a black community bar. For many Detroit residents it was the latest incident in a long history of segregation, discrimination, and inequality. Forty-three people died. Last year, the Detroit Free Press published an interactive retrospective that included first hand accounts, audio, and oral history from residents.
  • From The Eisenhower Foundation: After the uprisings in Detroit, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson convened the Kerner Commission to study the causes of the unrest and present policy solutions. The result, colloquially known as the Kerner Report, outlined how a history of racism and discrimination had weakened black communities, leaving them in substandard housing and poverty. The Kerner Report was published in March 1968, and this year marks its 50th anniversary. This link leads to an excerpt of an updated version of the report, with lessons learned and an examination of how we fare as a country 50 years later.

Joanne Tang is a Northern Virginia native and a graduate student in public administration and policy, focusing on resiliency and emergency response. She lives in Alexandria and enjoys learning about pretty much everything, including the history of pencils.