Shortly after 8:00 p.m. on April 4, 1968, the news that Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in Memphis, Tennessee reached Washington, DC.
The District had been an area where African Americans were supposedly treated better than those in places like Detroit, according to The Washington Post. Detroit, for example, was still recovering from a race riot that had happened a year earlier.
But King’s assassination ignited a powder keg of pressure that had been building up from years of mistreatment and underinvestment that the African American community suffered.
Washington exploded in massive riots that lasted four days. When it was over, 13 people were dead, over 1,000 were injured, and hundreds of buildings were burned or damaged.
The AP has put together a collection that shows photos from the riots juxtaposed with the present-day city. Check out the incredible images here:
Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at DC’s National Cathedral just a few days before his assassination in 1968.
After news of his death reached DC, riots erupted across the city.
The DC Metropolitan Police was over 80% white, despite the city being around 67% black, just one element that contributed to tensions between law enforcement and people living in city.
The riots got so bad that the National Guard had to be called to calm the fury.
Over 1,700 DC National Guardsmen were federalized and sent to patrol the streets to keep order.
It was the largest deployment of federal soldiers to any American city since the Civil War.
Firemen were called to burning buildings across Washington as fires destroyed homes and businesses.
Of the 13 people who were killed in the riots, eight died because of fires.
DC’s inner city economy was effectively ruined. Over 900 businesses were damaged or destroyed, and some areas like Columbia Heights and the U Street corridor were not able to fully recover until the 1990s.
Looting was chronic during the riots. One police officer reportedly said that “this situation is out of control, we need help it’s too much for us to handle.”
Source: Washington Daily News
The destruction seriously lowered the property values in the city and insurance rates increased dramatically.
The National Guard had to remain in the city after the riot was declared over in order to help police re-establish order and protect against another potential round of riots.
A number of politicians toured the damage after the riot was over. Here, Robert F. Kennedy, then a senator for New York and a candidate for president, tours the debris. Kennedy would be assassinated two months later.