44 Years Ago, DC's 14th Street NW Burned

Posted on: April 6th, 2012 by David Garber 5 Comments

44 years ago this week, in April 1968, a number of DC's major commercial corridors were under siege by rioters following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. From Wikipedia:

"As word of King's murder in Memphis, Tennessee spread on the evening of Thursday, April 4, crowds began to gather at 14th and U. Stokely Carmichael, the Trinidad and Tobago-born activist and Howard University graduate, [...] led members of the [Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee] to stores in the neighborhood demanding that they close out of respect. Although polite at first, the crowd fell out of control and began breaking windows. By 11pm, widespread looting had begun, as well as in over 30 other cities."

Check out the video below of DC's 14th Street NW -- out of control and burning -- filmed during the riots:

But don't stop there. 14th Street NW (home to our Restoration Diary building), as well as many of the other corridors affected during the riots, are well on their way to becoming healthy and vibrant places to be. Here's a slideshow of what 14th just south of U Street looks like now.


The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

General, Videos

5 Responses

  1. Kristen

    April 8, 2012

    Thanks for this it was very moving but 1968 was 43 years ago not 44…I was born in 1969 and am only 42..please don’t age me! Thanks!

  2. Marilyn Finney

    April 9, 2012

    The video is of tragedy, loss and tear gas canisters. The tranquil, lyrical music seems to be a real disconnect. Otherwise, it’s a great blog.

  3. Tom

    April 11, 2012

    This video is amazing. I had no idea it existed. But I’m disappointed by this post. You’ve just quoted Wikipedia, and then jumped to celebrating the gentrification of the area. It is great that 14th Street is thriving, but there’s also been a cost in all of that, and the National Trust should be able to speak to that in a more complicated, nuanced way. At least I hope it could.

  4. Justin

    April 11, 2012

    Great photos! It’s wonderful that long-abandoned buildings are being given new life. However, it’s important to remember that a lot of the reasons for the riots were based around the neglect of working-class residents in these areas in addition to the discriminatory practices of the white-owned shops targeted. Unfortunately, a lot of this high-end development threatens to repeat the cycle. This redevelopment is clearly not meant for everyone, as longtime working-class residents aren’t really the 400k condo and $12 cocktail type.

  5. Carlos Lumpuy

    April 12, 2012

    Good morning.

    If I were to say or write one thing about the Riots of 1968 it would be to state clearly, and most importantly,
    they were not “disturbances” as the revisionists and today’s politically correct like to call them.

    They were riots.

    There was violence.

    Big time.

    With Justin’s remark above:

    “However, it’s important to remember that a lot of the reasons for the riots were based around the neglect of working-class residents in these areas in addition to the discriminatory practices of the white-owned shops targeted.”

    Well, I just simply can’t write one thing,

    as I’m so saddened and disappointed in Justin’s statement and knowing there are so many other young people who have been taught something that is part of a false retelling of something that is not true and entirely conjured up by revisionists and their relativism,

    miserable folk that wallow in failure and denial, are consumed in the torrid history of slavery, see all of life through the prism of race, and immersed in guilt are endlessly fault finding in our nation’s noble history finding inequality and injustice in everything under the sun no matter how good life is.

    The riots that began on 4 April 1968 were a direct result of the news from Memphis, Tennessee. That was it.

    One of the best things about living and working at 18th and Columbia Road back then (what today we call Adams Morgan), was seeing not “the discriminatory practices of the white-owned shops targeted” as Justin narrowly highlights and fabricates,

    but completely the opposite, the cosmopolitan nature of the capital city we were not just with embassies from the world over but with a full diversity of retail merchants of all creeds and ethnicities we had at the time,

    and more importantly how the residential demographic of all the apartment houses along Columbia Road included everyone from the newly married couple, the elderly widow, the newly employed government employee, the retired couple, or the George Washington University student all living under one roof not just in an urban environment, but one that was urbane, civilized and affordable to all.

    We were a Federal City governed by three commissioners, three gray haired old men educated in public administration, appointed by the President of the United States.

    George Washington appointed the first three of those commissioners. They are represented still today in our flag with the three stars on a field of white, the Standard of Mount Vernon. The system worked well, and well into its second century with limited government doing what it should do.

    A lifelong Washingtonian, I continue to advocate the dumping of Home Rule and a return to the Federal City system that worked so well and in so many ways towards the apolitical public administration of a relatively small municipality of half a million people that just happens to be our nation’s capital.

    Muddled in process and politics, Home Rule with its protracted ineffectiveness has failed us Washingtonians and failed us miserably and big time. There are some folk who think that still more levels of politicians will somehow help our situation when it is these very politicians and a compliant press that continuously divide us as the citizens and the neighbors that we are. And sadly we let them.

    Government exists to do only what citizens cannot do for themselves.

    The only humor I can remember of the Riots of 1968 was the weather forecast:


    Seriously, there was no humor to the Riots of 1968.

    As I’ve written before, merits repeating, and most importantly,

    they were not “disturbances” as the revisionists and today’s politically correct like to call them.

    They were riots.

    There was violence.

    Big time.

    Even our city firemen were attacked with rocks, bottles and trash. Many thousands were arrested, more than a thousand Washingtonians were injured, a dozen died, while more than 1,200 buildings burned, few being able to be put out with such persistent violence for days.

    Nor was there much humor about it for the many years that followed throughout the late 1960′s and the 1970′s with the immediate collapse of the local private sector economy, a thousand store fronts burned down, seeing our neighbors and local merchants flee, as many of these charred and burned out buildings stood empty and boarded up for years and years, and the urban blight that ensued thereafter for all of us Washingtonians.

    It was a pivotal milestone in the history of the District of Columbia.

    We were abandoned to fend for ourselves that long weekend, our personal and professional lives so disrupted and altered without notice or warning, with no police and no protection from authorities for some long smoke filled days and fire lit nights that very long weekend that started on the first Thursday evening of April 1968 in Washington, D.C.