The anatomy of a vicious American riot.
In the wake of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968, dozens of American cities exploded in violence. Following four summers of what had been termed “race riots” in American cities, most urban areas—poor, underdeveloped, and increasingly populated by African-Americans who had been abandoned by both fleeing white populations and increasingly neglectful local, state, and national policies—proved to be dry tinder vulnerable to any spark. Amid this chaotic landscape, Washington, D.C., experienced some of the worst rioting in the country’s history. In this brief and brisk book, historian Walker (ACC Basketball: The Story of the Rivalries, Traditions, and Scandals of the First Two Decades of the Atlantic Coast Conference, 2011, etc.) provides an almost forensic history of the 1968 riots. After providing a capsule history of Washington and a chronicle of the city’s increasingly fractious race relations, the author provides a blow-by-blow breakdown of the riots, especially in the most fraught 48 hours or so from the evening of April 4. He manages to balance the astringent realities of racism in the city with a full acknowledgement of the excesses of some of the participants in the devastation. Similarly, he reveals the many mistakes and missteps as well as the halting successes of those trying to combat the riots, including public officials at the local and national levels, mostly white, but also Walter Washington, one of the first black mayors of an American city. In fewer than 200 pages, the author provides both the vital background to the riots as well as the long tale of their legacy well into the 21st century.
In a country that still has barely begun to reconcile with a long history of racism, white supremacy, and their consequences, Walker provides an important reminder about how any event related to these phenomena will have both deep roots and long-term consequences.