Today, April 4th 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tennessee. This horrible moment set off a series of race riots around the country and here in Washington, D.C. particularly on H st NE and U st NW. These 2 neighborhoods were African American commercial avenues and centerpieces of their neighborhoods. The riots lasted for 5 days, and 20,000 looting and rioting citizens were not pacified until 13,000 national guardsmen were sent into the city. The damage afterwards left 12 people dead, 6,100 arrested, and completely destroyed 2 vital neighborhood commercial centers. Entire blocks of Black Broadway were reduced to rubble with Ben’s Chili Bowl being one of the few businesses to escape unscathed.
This damaged infrastructure and loss of inner city business was one of the major contributing factors to the population flight to the suburbs of the 70s, leading to the crack epidemic of the 1980s. The U st. area would not begin to recover until the metro stop opening in 1991, and more recently has enjoyed a cultural renaissance as a main avenue of the city, while the H st. neighborhood is still recovering today.
The DC Riot Tee features a photograph taken in 1968 of the corner of 14th and U st. and the devastation the neighborhood endured. The photo shows a national guardsman directing traffic, while fire trucks work in the distance. The damage to buildings is also shown, with the corner building reduced to rubble. As we progress as a society and as a city, it’s important to remember and respect the history within it.
The DC Riot tee is available in black and white in our online shop