1968 Riots


Anniversary of MLK Assassination And The Riots That Changed D.C.

PBS NewsHour / Flickr

The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in D.C.

Today marks the 44th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., a day that shook a nation and forever changed D.C.’s landscape. The riots that erupted in the wake of King’s killing devastated many D.C. neighborhoods, which were left economically depressed for decades. That environment set the stage for present day gentrification.

Rioting after King’s assassination lasted for days in D.C., where initially peaceful gatherings turned violent. People looted businesses and more than 1,000 buildings burned to the ground. A curfew was put into place. Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street was one of the few businesses that remained opened through the riots.

In the video below, Ben’s Chili Bowl cofounder Virginia Ali and others recall D.C. during the riots. They also talk about how Ben’s survived the aftermath of the riots and then weathered gentrification. Ben’s is one of the oldest businesses on U Street and is now a bonafide D.C. landmark.

At the end of the video, Virginia Ali says, “What has been most interesting and most satisfying for me, is to go into the Chili Bowl and see people from all walks of life: the rich, the poor, the intellectuals, those who haven’t gotten very much education.” It runs the gamut, she says, including people of all races, and seeing such diversity has “just been wonderful. I think that’s what the world should look like.”

Video by Lauren Schneiderman, Zoeann Murphy, Pam Kaplan, Rachel Lincoln and Aurora Lutty

Rare Photos Capture 1968 D.C. Riots

The D.C. riots that erupted in the wake of the 1968 Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination resulted in more than 1,000 burned down buildings, dramatically changing the District’s landscape. Such damage altered the course of the city’s development, and the riots are still brought up in current discussions over gentrification and revitalization.

But exactly how did the city look during the four days of rioting? Yale University has released a collection of rare negatives documenting the riots and the government response. They were taken by part-time Associated Press photographer Alexander Lmanian, and the images he captured show soldiers mobilizing in D.C. streets, people looting and damaged storefronts. See our gallery below: