Saturday, April 05, 2008

40 Years Ago

(An occasional reminiscence on the events of 1968)

Saturday was supposed to be the big day of the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, but that had been canceled by now. Tourists were getting a peek at the riot areas, which were cordoned off by troops and police but could be seen on side streets in places. The worst parts, which we saw on TV and in the papers, looked like a scene from WWII, burned buildings everywhere.

And fires were still breaking out, there was still sporadic looting, and some sniper incidents. The curfew started at 4 p.m. that day so downtown Washington was deserted by early evening. That night police arrested 600 for curfew violations, all over the city.

There were 13,600 troops by Sunday -- Palm Sunday.

Either Saturday or Sunday, we went out to see what was happening. We may have gone to the Tidal Basin to see the blossoms. But I took some pictures in the areas on the edges of the riot zone, probably mostly near our Mount Pleasant neighborhood but also in Meridian Hill Park. I don't recognize much in these photos now.

Military occupation of our nation's capital -- not the only time I would see it.

This is probably upper 14th St. or the Mt. Pleasant business area.

Appears to be further downtown, maybe Dupont Circle area?

Kids climb James Buchanan memorial at Meridian Hill Park.

Lots of smoke, still.
Emergency Center. below, a looted shop.

My roomate/cousin George, Meridian Hill.

By the time the weekend was over, 12 people were dead and over 1100 injured. 7,600 people had been arrested. Later, the Post would estimate 20,000 people participated in the riots. 900 businesses were damaged, and many business owners would never return. But we would see those 'soul brother' signs for months.

On Saturday, in Oakland, a shootout between police and Black Panthers resulted in the death of young Panther treasurer Bobby Hutton, who had recently joined the organization at 16.

There were riots in about 100 other cities that week, including Baltimore, Chicago, Kansas City; nearly 50 died. In Boston, a scheduled James Brown concert was held as a tribute and rioting was minimal. In New York, Janis Joplin and Big Brother with Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens, Paul Butterfield, and Elvin Bishop held an impromptu 'Wake for Martin Luther King, Jr.'

This week was my introduction to journalism. Although I was a news junky I had never thought of journalism as a career. But as I read the details of the riots and how Post reporters and photographers covered them, and as I heard the stories when I went back to work, hearing how these men (and a few women) who I would soon get to know and work with had faced rioters, angry police, snipers, fires, tear gas and still gotten amazing stories about how people's lives were affected by that awful week, gave me an appreciation of the work journalists do.

I would never forget.

On Monday April 8, the siege of Khe Sanh ended. Over the 78 days of the siege, 199 Marines were killed and 830 wounded. The weeklong battle to reopen the road to Khe Sahn by the 1st Cav had resulted in 92 killed and 629 wounded. The base at Khe Sahn, after all the cost of keeping it going, would be shut down after Westmoreland was replaced in June.

On Tuesday, Martin Luther King Jr. was buried in Atlanta, his body flown from Memphis in a plane chartered by Robert F. Kennedy's campaign. Baseball's opening day was moved to the next day, when Vice President Hubert Humphrey would throw out the first ball at the Senators/Twins game on opening day, Wednesday, with soldiers patrolling the streets outside DC Stadium.

The curfew on DC lasted until Friday that week, with later and later starting times.
Troops would leave the city by Easter Sunday, and the state of emergency dropped on the 15th.

(Postscript: Washington Post photographer Matt Lewis took many of the pictures of the riots, and also photographed the 1963 March and other protests in DC in those years. The Post has a video of his photos and memories online.)

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  • These photos mean a lot to me. I was very young when all of this happened, however, it marked the loss of the rest of my childhood. Thank you for taking and posting these.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:24 AM  

  • Remarkable - I hope that you'll post these to Flickr so that they'll get an even wider audience.

    The photo you have labeled as "Appears to be further downtown, maybe Dupont Circle area?" is Rabaut Park in Mt. Pleasant - the statue of Francis Asbury at the intersection of 16th, Harvard, and Mt. Pleasant Streets, NW is visible in the background:

    By Blogger Ryan Shepard, at 10:30 AM  

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