1968 was a pivotal year in America’s civil rights movement. Black Americans were still suffering from white supremacy of which met them at every tuned opportunity to advance in their standards of living. Martin Luther King Jr., a spokesman for black Americans, preached reform through peaceful means. Even more so, he warned Americans that situations of unrest would occur in the event this fell upon deaf ears or further spurred black’s civil rights infringement. Feeling a lack of support for them, Black Americans grew impatient with bureaucracy in waiting for their needs to be met or not at all. In 1968, all of these things came to a head in April of that year.

Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated in Memphis on April 5, 1968. Just days earlier he stood tall at one of his many speaking engagements preaching his message of peace not violence as a means to secure civil rights for all Americans. Angry, shocked and hurt, Washington, DC. black residents flooded the streets and local businesses to release their pent-up frustration. They looted, rioted and shouted the need for action and this time no amount of police force would deter their ambitions.

The following day schools and government offices were open as usual. This was unlike President Kennedy’s day of mourning after his assassination. In protest of this unfair action, a more liberal black activist, Stokely Carmichael, persuaded local black business owners to shut down and close in a wave of defiance against white’s lack of sympathy showed the black community. The looting and fires lead to the discharge of National Guard troops who were not allowed to fire upon the rioters.  For once, blacks were not ruled by police brutality. After the riots, the first black mayor of  Washington, DC., Walter Washington, was placed in charge of the city, supported by President Johnson; a pro-Civil Rights leader. Blacks that remained in these looted and rioted areas took over soon after as segregation ended and middle-class black families moved away. What remained was a new community built by blacks and protected by blacks so strongly no white person dared to venture there.

What was learned from this trying time in 1968 was thatAmericawas ready more than ever to end segregation and to begin to allow law to work for the advancement of civil rights. Black Americans would not sit idly by and be intimidated into accepting things the way they were. They mourned Martin Luther King Jr. and honored him by picking up the torch and carrying his vision with them into the future. Americans also learned that violence on violence was not the answer and it could not control the black community; strong as any other in its determination for political freedoms.

The Fires of 1968 Marker Photo, Click for full size

Today a marker stands to remind those who pass by to remember lives lost and reborn on the eve of major advancement of the civil rights movement.

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