Wednesday, April 23, 2008

MLK Riots 40 Years Later

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4th, 1968 from the balcony of a Memphis Hotel by James Earl Ray an escaped convict from Missouri. Whether Ray acted alone or with the assistance of a shady character known only as "Raoul" we will never know. News of Dr. King's assassination spread quickly throughout the world and riots erupted in many major cities across the country. The irony is that Dr. King was a peaceful man who spread his message of integration through non violence and unity. During his pursuit of equality Dr. King was threatened with and treated with violence, although this did not deter him from keeping the push for civil rights peaceful. Still, his death brought about deadly riots making the man spin in his grave. The after effects of the riots are still prevalent in many U.S. cities especially Baltimore where 25% of all arrests were made.Day 1 April 5th, 1968 riots broke out along Greenmount Avenue and Gay Street in the Oldtown Mall, Johnston Square, Oliver and Broadway East neighborhoods. Fires, looting, and vandalism were just getting started. Day 2, April 6th, 1968 the riots were in full force , while still going strong where they started on day 1 the violence had spread west. Old West Baltimore had fallen victim to fires, looting and vandalism. Day 3 April 7th, 1968 riots were contained to Old West Baltimore but broke out along lower Harford Road.
Day 4 April 8th, 1968 the riots stayed in Old West Baltimore and broke out again on the east side. By the 5th day, the riots were under control with hundreds arrested and injured some even killed. Riots were boundaried on 25th St. on the north, Baltimore St. on the south, Poplar Grove St. on the west and Patterson Park Avenue on the east although there was rioting at Edmondson Village and Milton Avenue. The streets with the heaviest volume of rioting were North Avenue, Franklin St. Harford Road, Greenmout Avenue, and Gay St.Earlier this month it was the 40th anniversary of both the assassination and the subsequent riots that followed. Once stable neighborhoods were forever changed by the devastation caused by the riots. Neighborhoods that were giving integration a try quickly became re segregated as white flight although it was in full force before accelerated to break neck speed. Race relations were razor sharp all across the city. Rich whites kept to themselves in their neighborhoods that hugged the County Line and poor inner city white neighborhoods became more racist than ever fearing a black take over. The black neighborhoods were in shambles because that's where the generally rioting took place. The riots marked a turning point in how Baltimore was perceived nationwide and worldwide. It was during those four days that Baltimore became a dangerous city and every time a crime occurred it was just fuel for the fire. The 1970s due in part to the riots became the decade that Baltimore lost the highest amount of population; 100,000 citizens and also the decade that blacks outnumbered whites dubbing Baltimore a "Brown City" I don't like that term but it gets used a lot.
The 1980s saw a rebirth for Baltimore's Inner Harbor which allowed tourists to flock there by the hundreds of thousands. Still, there was uncertainty about safety, like what would happen if someone made a wrong turn they'd end up getting shot. These fears still persist although the success of the Inner Harbor has spread like wild fire (not the best choice of words when I'm talking about riots) Many of the neighborhoods effected most by the riots have yet to recover. Some buildings are in the very state they were in 40 years ago, burnt out shells of their former selves.Now what have the riots taught us and what can be done to prevent them? The riots have taught us that there is still racial tension in Baltimore and a peaceful man's legacy can be forgotten and have all that he fought for (peacefully) can be set back in just 4 days. They have taught us that we are just one tragic event away from decivilization. They say that if history isn't taught it's bound to repeat itself. The riots need to be revisited so they don't happen again. The streets where the most looting took place need to have plaques put up as historical markers depicting what happened at that site. This will either show the progress that has or has not been made since the riots. 40 years later lets try to honor Dr. King by stopping all the violence that's dishonored him the past 40 years and before that.

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