D.C. Riots of 1968
How Activist Stokely Carmichael and Friends Accidently
Started 3 Days of Rioting that Burned 1000 Buildings and Left 12 People Dead, mostly burned to death in their homes
"[R]ioting is not revolutionary but
because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility." Martin Luther King, Jr.
Also see Wikipedia article, NBC stories and video, Youtube Video
FROM TEN BLOCKS FROM THE WHITE
Anatomy of the Washington Riots of 1968 by Ben W. Bilbert and the Staff of the Washington Post, 1968
CHAPTER I:Thursday Night: First Sparks of Anger
considered 4his intersection
the most volatile in the city’s crowded Negro sections. Angry people
gathered here often in the past. Only two nights before, a crowd of
hundred youngsters and young adults had tossed bottles and stones at
policemen responding to a trouble call at the Peoples Drug Store outlet
next to the SCLC office. Stokely Carmichael, former national chairman
the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), had told that
to “go home.”...
By 8:00 P.M. Ofl Thursday, April 4, prostitutes, pimps, and female impersonators were lining the fronts of buildings between T and U streets, and the cafes had their doors open. Youths in their teens and twenties loitered in small groups on the corners, with the sidewalk in front of the SCLC office drawing the largest congregation.
At 8:19 P.M. came the news bulletin everyone had feared. Martin Luther King, the thirty-nine-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner and apostle of nonviolent protest against poverty and racial discrimination, had died fourteen minutes earlier. Memphis police flashed a bulletin for a white man seen darting out of a flophouse near Dr. King’s motel. ...
At 14th and U that first night, the President’s statement was still coming over the radio in the back of the Peoples Drug Store when a group of about thirty youths burst inside.
“Martin Luther King is dead,” they shouted. “Close the store!”
In the group was a tall, sum twenty-six-year-old, with a startlingly handsome face—Stokely Carmichael, Trinidad-born, acknowledged revolutionary, and black activist, who had put together a “Black United Front” of Washington Negro organizations to provide a sounding board for black leadership. He sought out the manager.
“It’s closed; it’s closed,” Carmichael excitedly told the white manager G. N. Simirtzakis. As soon as he understood what was happening, Simirtzakis agreed.
Youths roaming store aisles told customers, “It’s closed now, you can go,” and steered them to the door. The fluorescent lights began to flicker off as Carmichael and his group left.
On the sidewalk outside, they joined more people, mostly L young men in their twenties, and the growing crowd rushed diagonally across the busy intersection to Carter’s liquor store, which had been about to shut, anyway, because the usual closing hour was nearing. The crowd then began moving farther south on 14th Street.
When Carmichael first heard of the shooting of Dr. King he had gone at once to the SCLC headquarters. There, sitting between two desks, with one foot on each, he had started making telephone calls to Memphis to find out what happened.
“Well,” he was heard to state over the telephone, “if we must die, we better die fighting back.” ....
Carmichael and the crowd around him headed south on 14th Street for a time, crisscrossing the street, stopping at open stores, and asking them to close. (Berkeley Chaney, night manager of the Wings ‘N’ Things chicken carryout, remembered that the group was polite when it asked him to close, about 9:10 P.M.) ...
The mood of the entire crowd grew uglier. “This is it baby,” someone said, “The shit is going to hit tile fan now. . . . We oughta burn this place down right now. Let’s get some white motherfuckers. . . . Let’s kill them all.”
The cries became so loud that Carmichael stopped tile crowd again and began arguing with a young man who had been among those suggesting tllat they should act to avenge Dr King’s deatil.
“You really ready to go out and kill?” Carmichael asked . “How you gonna win? What you got? They’ve got guns . . tanks. What you got? If you don't have your gun, go home. We’re not ready. Let’s wait until tomorrow. Just cool it. Go home, go home, go home.” ...
Just as Carmichael reached 14th and U, he heard what sounded like gunshots a block away. It was 10:24 P.M. At police headquarters, the sounds produced the first two trouble calls from 14th Street—windows breaking at Sam’s Pawnbrokers and the Rhodes Five and Ten store, both a block south of U on 14th Street. This time, youths in the crowd made it to the stores before SNCC workers could intervene and began pouring through the display windows to grab watches, jewelry, radios, and television sets.
As Carmichael heard the two loud sounds, he saw a man in his twenties iii the crowd brandishing a gun. Carmichael wrested it away from him, ending another argument about whether the crowd should act to avenge the assassination.
“Go home, go home, go home,” Carmichael shouted. “None. of this,” he cried, waving the man’s gun in the air. “None of this, we’re not ready.”
“But we’ve got no leader,” a voice in the crowd called out. “We lost our leader. They killed him.”
Carmichael answered: “You won’t get one like this. You’ll just get shot. Go home. go home.”
Down the street, two SNCC workers, one a high-school youth who was wearing a Carmichael-style, green field jacket and had two binoculars around his neck, began pulling looters out of stores and display windows and telling them to “go home.” The pair soon became discouraged. As soon as they cleared one store, rioters hopped into another to grab what they could.
A girl in her twenties, who had been in the SNCC office earlier, reached through one of the store windows. She came out with several transistor radios cradled in her right arm and a large cooking pot, which she rhythmically hit against her left hip.
“Got me something; got me something,” she shouted to the thumping beat.
Youths with television sets, electrical appliances, clothing, shoes, and other items began streaming past Carmichael at 14th and U. Slipping away, he ducked into the doorway of the SCLC office, stood for a moment, and then dashed across 14th Street to get in a waiting Mustang and speed away. It was 10:40 P.M.
Carmichael knew his actions were being watched closely by federal authorities. He has since said he was determined to give -them no cause to arrest him. Clearly, his decision to close the --stores was an important factor in collecting the crowd. But he and his aides made strenuous efforts to check the mob when it grew unruly. He took his exit at the precise point of no return— as the memorial street demonstration exploded into riot. ....
April 5, the Washington, D.C., police department was concerned about
black activist Stokely Carmichael might do.
Although the city was tense, no looting or burning had occurred that morning, and the authorities had high hopes of keeping the lid on.
Police intelligence had learned that Carmichael would hold a news conference at the former headquarters of the New School for Afro-American Thought, at 2208 14th Street, N.W., which had been taken over by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. After that, he was expected to appear at an outdoor rally at Howard University. ...
It did not take Carmichael long to warn the white man that lie faced retaliatory action.
“When white America killed Dr. King last night, it declared war on us,’ he said. “There will be no crying and there will be no funeral.
“The rebellions that have been occurring around these cities and this country is just light stuff to what is about to happen. We have to retaliate for the deaths of our leaders. The execution for those deaths will not be in the courtrooms. They’re going to be in the streets of the United States of America.
“The kind of man that killed Dr. King last night made it a whole lot easier for a whole lot of black people today,” Carmichael went on. “There no longer needs to be intellectual discussion. Black people know that they have to get guns. White America will live to cry since she killed Dr. King last night.”
As he warmed up at the SNCC press conference, Carmichael became even more dramatic....
[At Howard University Rally] Stokely Carmichael emerged from the back of the crowd and warned of violence ahead in Washington, even as smoke could be seen rising above 14th Street, ten blocks to the west.
“Stay off the streets, if you don’t have a gun,” Carmichael warned, “because there’s going to be shooting.”
He made the same statement several times, his voice growing louder and louder. He drew a pistol from his jacket and waved it over his head. He was duplicating his actions of the night before, when he had repeatedly urged individuals to go home because they did not have guns and were “not ready for the thing.” After finishing his speech, Carmichael dropped from sight and was not seen in public again that day. ...
The Howard open-air rally continued for a while after Carmichael left, but subsequent speakers were not able to hold the interest of the students. At the end, the crowd dissolved into small knots of individuals who engaged in animated conversation in the campus quadrangle area.
As Carmichael vanished, about sixty high-school students on the fringes of the crowd, who had not been very attentive to the speeches, departed. They walked off the University campus and headed down Georgia Avenue, N,W., to 7th Street, following in the wake of perhaps 200 other high-school students who had been moving south down the same streets.
Along the way, the mass of youths was spotted by police, who advised headquarters to expect serious trouble shortly in the 7th Street shopping area.
(The rest of the book describes the full scale, city wide rioting that developed after this, burning 1000 buildings and killing 12 people, most of whom burned in their homes.)
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