Posted: 12:59 pm Thursday, April 3rd, 2008
By Jamie Dupree
In April of 1968, I was a 4-year old kid living on Capitol Hill. My parents were both working as Congressional aides, their offices just a short walk from our front door.
It was an unsettled social and political time, with the Civil Rights movement growing and unease over the Vietnam War.
Martin Luther King Junior’s death only added to the unstable situation, touching off riots in a number of cities, including Washington, D.C.
I asked my father to think back on the events of April 4, 1968.
“Obviously tensions were high as soon as the word spread about MLK. We were attending some political event at the Washington Hilton that night during which we heard the news.
“I had parked our car a few blocks away but thought wisely (for a change) we shouldn’t walk it. We took a cab and the black cab driver tried to charge us an outrageous amount for the few block ride and I got in an argument with him (not so wise).
“There was some looting that night, but it was the next day, Friday, that all Hell broke loose. I went to work and remember going over to the Capitol and from the outside Northwest corner of the Capitol seeing the flames from the burning of the 7th Street corridor.
“Most of the stores (all of the liquor) on Capitol Hill were looted. By Saturday morning the troops were on every street corner. There were also tanks on E Street which we think were backup for the troops guarding the Capitol. (LBJ didn’t want any photos of tanks guarding the Capitol from their own people.)
“From Wikipedia (which has a succinct summary of the riot), “The occupation of Washington was the largest of any American city since the Civil War. Mayor Washington imposed a curfew and banned the sale of alcohol and guns in the city.”
“We never felt indivually threatened. I remember gathering outside with some neighbors and deciding who was going to make a “milk run” to the suburbs to get some booze.
“The real tragedy was they looted and burned mainly in their own black areas (H Street NE, 7th and upper 14th NW.)”
As my father notes, there were three main areas of destruction forty years ago in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, forty years later, those areas are still recovering.
H Street NE, just a few minutes from the Capitol building itself has lagged behind the most. Only in the past few years has work really advanced to replace the burned out buildings and the empty lots.
40 years seems like a long time. For some parts of Washington, D.C., time has not moved fast enough to heal the scars of the riots that were touched off by the King assassination in Memphis.