Shaw in Washington, District of Columbia — The American Northeast (Mid-Atlantic)
The Fires of 1968
Midcity at the Crossroads
—Shaw Heritage Trail —
The assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on Thursday, April 4, 1968, changed this neighborhood forever.
When word of Dr. King’s murder spread that evening, Washingtonians gathered along busy 14th and U streets, NW; H Street, NE; and here on Seventh. At first distraught residents simply demanded that businesses close to honor the life of Dr. King, but soon angry individuals began smashing storefronts and taking merchandise. Fury over Dr. King’s death, combined with local Black resentment of some White businessmen who treated their patrons as second-class citizens, fueled the rage and destruction.
Stores were firebombed and looted. Firefighters could not do their jobs because rioters cut their hoses. Police were outnumbered. On Friday National Guardsmen and U.S. Army troops arrived to restore order.
When the smoke cleared, the community discovered that 10 people had died in fires. Many were elderly and disabled, living above the storefronts. Businesses, owned by Blacks and Whites alike, were ruined, never to reopen. The riots unfortunately succeeded where urban renewal planners had failed: demolishing many of the area’s oldest buildings. Shaw experienced years of boarded-up windows and vacant lots. By the 1980s, affordable housing stood where stores and taverns once did business.
In 1950, shops and the Broadway movie house lined this side of Seventh, top, including Thyson House, above. At right is this corner the day after the April 1968 riots following Dr. King’s assassination, with the smoking ruins of Thyson House at center. (Washingtonian Division, DC Public Library)
The morning after the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Howard University students shut down the school in protest. (Washingtonian Division, DC Public Library)
Firefighters battled a blaze at Ninth and L as a police officer scanned the roof tops for snipers. (The Washington Post)
Outnumbered police officers watched helplessly as looters cleared out stores on Seventh Street between L and M. (The Washington Post)
Erected by Cultural Tourism, DC. (Marker Number 9 of 17.)
Marker series. This marker is included in the Martin Luther King, Jr. marker series.
Location. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Washington DC 20001, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Community Anchors (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Spiritual Life (about 600 feet away); Working for the Race (about 700 feet away); Carter G. Woodson House (about 700 feet away); Immaculate Conception Catholic School (approx. 0.2 miles away); Immaculate Conception Catholic Church (approx. 0.2 miles away); Phyllis Wheatley YWCA (approx. 0.2 miles away); Seventh Street Develops (approx. 0.2 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Shaw.
Also see . . .
1. Wikipedia entry for the 1968 Riots in Washington, DC. (Submitted on August 15, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.)
2. Wikipedia entry for the Baltimore Riot of 1968. (Submitted on August 15, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland.)
Additional keywords. Civil disorder; unrest
Categories. • 20th Century • African Americans • Notable Events • Politics •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 15, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. This page has been viewed 1,166 times since then and 38 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3. submitted on August 15, 2009, by Richard E. Miller of Oxon Hill, Maryland. • Kevin W. was the editor who published this page.