Baltimore Riot of 1968

The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. on April 4, 1968 set off a rash of riots through the United States. Probably the worst of the riots that occurred in more than 130 U. S. cities was in Baltimore, Maryland. The large urban areas with high African-American populations were hit especially hard. The large African-American population in Baltimore was already experiencing racial tensions because of the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War protests. The killing of King caused shock and confusion which evolved into chaos.

The officials were hopeful that Baltimore would escape the riots since things were rather quiet for two days following the assassination. However, they were not that lucky. The first act of violence reported to the police was in the early morning hours of April 5. A homemade firebomb was thrown through a window of Hoffman’s Liquor Store. On Friday the students at Coppin State College and Northwestern High School refused to attend classes. Baltimore Mayor D’Alesandro set Sunday as a special day of prayer and Monday as a city-wide day of mourning for Dr. King. Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew announced that the National Guard was in a state of readiness and all State Police were placed on alert.

In spite of the official overtures to keep order, on Saturday, April 6, 1968, after a few minor incidents, the rioting and looting began in earnest. The streets became crime scenes as people threw rocks into their own neighborhood shops. Sniper shots came from roof tops, warehouses broken into, fires set in grocery stores and looting was rampant.

Although doing their best, the city police were not able to stop the rioting. 500 State Troopers were sent to help. Even this was not sufficient to quell the riot so Governor Agnew called in the National Guard and proclaimed a state of emergency. A curfew for everyone was established from 4 p. m. to 6 a.m., travel in and out of Baltimore was restricted, county offices were closed at 2 p.m. and businesses encouraged to do the same. An Executive Order was issued prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages, fire arms, and ammunition. Gas stations were forbidden to sell fuel in containers and ordered closed in the evenings.

The citizens of Baltimore were terrified of what was happening and worried about what would happen next. It was described as worse than war as the inner city was engulfed in flames. There were reports that H. Rap Brown was in the city agitating and encouraging the escalation of the rioting.

As the rioting continued Governor Agnew asked President Lyndon B. Johnson to send Federal troops. The 18 th Airborne Corps from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, specially trained in riot control, arrived on Sunday evening and two days later were joined by a Light Infantry Brigade from Fort Benning, Georgia. With all the police, state troopers, National Guard and federal troops in the streets, the rioting began to subside.

By Tuesday the worst was over having continued for four days. The toll at the end of two weeks of unrest was 6 persons dead, 700 injured, over a thousand businesses looted or burned and 4,500 people arrested. The property damage was estimated at 13.5 million dollars.

The riot of 1968 is still being studied by the people of Baltimore to help in understanding the civil unrest during that period in their history.