Riots and Rebirth in an American City
Publication Year: 2011
In 1968, Baltimore was home to a variety of ethnic, religious, and racial communities that, like those in other American cities, were confronting a quickly declining industrial base. In April of that year, disturbances broke the urban landscape along lines of race and class.
This book offers chapters on events leading up to the turmoil, the riots, and the aftermath as well as four rigorously edited and annotated oral histories of members of the Baltimore community. The combination of new scholarship and first-person accounts provides a comprehensive case study of this period of civil unrest four decades later.
This engaging, broad-based public history lays bare the diverse experiences of 1968 and their effects, emphasizing the role of specific human actions. By reflecting on the stories and analysis presented in this anthology, readers may feel empowered to pursue informed, responsible civic action of their own.
Baltimore '68 is the book component of a larger public history project, "Baltimore '68 Riots: Riots and Rebirth." The project's companion website (http://archives.ubalt.edu/bsr/index.html ) offers many more oral histories plus photos, art, and links to archival sources. The book and the website together make up an invaluable teaching resource on cities, social unrest, and racial politics in the 1960s. The project was the corecipient of the 2009 Outstanding Public History Project Award from the National Council on Public History.
Published by: Temple University Press
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It’s legitimate to ask why anyone would bother to open old wounds by revisiting the civic disorders that wracked our nation’s cities a generation ago. Although some physical signs remain of that tur-bulence, for the most part the areas affected have been reconstructed, those who witnessed or participated in those events have largely moved on with their lives, and the urban issues that animated the period have, if not receded, been relegated to the periphery of civic discourse. At ...
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It is hard to remember that, as recently as 2008, if one were to search for information on “Baltimore riots,” actually or virtually, much more would come up for the unrest in 1861 than for the events of April 1968. The absence of materials for the latter belies its importance. Unlike the earlier turmoil, related to the Civil War, the events of April 1968 had no clear victors. the disorder that followed the assassination of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., in Baltimore ...
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An anthology, by definition, is a collaborative enterprise. The editors wish to thank all of the contributors to this volume, each of whom first presented or moderated at Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth, a pathbreaking public history conference held in April 2008 at the University of Baltimore. In addition to the authors of the chapters, we are indebted to many of our...
Part I: April 1968
1. The Dream Deferred: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Holy Week Uprisings of 1968
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As the sun began to set on saturday, April 6, 1968, robert Bradby, a twenty-one-year-old black steelworker, was relaxing at his girlfriend’s house when a crowd of black men and women began to congregate about a mile away on Gay street in east Baltimore. Two days earlier, Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in memphis, tennessee, and the black communities in Washington, D.C., and Chicago had erupted, but Baltimore, in the words of government ...
2. Jewell Chambers: Oral History
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At the time we’re speaking of, in 1968, I was a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American. I had started work in September of ’67 and I would leave the Afro in May of ’68 and go to the U.S. Office of Education.1 But I couldn’t have picked a better year in which to be a reporter. Even though I was new, the staff at the Afro was so small that you don’t stay a cub reporter long, only until they’re...
3. Why Was There No Rioting in Cherry Hill?
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The Cherry Hill neighborhood on the south side of Baltimore was constructed in the 1940s and 1950s as a racially segregated “planned suburb” for African Americans. By the time of the rioting that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, Cherry Hill was home to fourteen thousand to forty thousand African Americans, 3 to 10 percent of Baltimore’s black population...
Part II: The Political, Religious, and Urban Planning Context
4. “White Man’s Lane”: Hollowing Out the Highway Ghetto in Baltimore
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.“The coming of violence to Baltimore’s ghetto,” began the American Friends Service Committee’s “Report on Baltimore Civil Disorders, April 1968,” “was no surprise.” Baltimore’s African Americans were subject to the same abuses and indignities that had sparked riots in other American cities: in Baltimore, just as in Watts and Harlem and Newark and Louisville and Detroit, white children went to better schools than black children, played...
5. Spiro T. Agnew and the Burning of Baltimore
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Around 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, April 6, 1968, a black teenager tossed a brick through a store window in East Baltimore, setting off a riot that consumed the city for days. When order was restored, 6 people were dead, 4,474 had been arrested, and over a thousand fires had swept through the city.1 The riot served as a test...
6. Thomas Carney: Oral History
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I grew up in a row home in the middle of the 600 block of Scott Street, with my sister, my father, and my mother, in an area that is known colloquially as Pigtown. It was an area of the community with a lot of factories. My father, my uncles all worked in factories. The people who lived there lived there to be close to work. It was a racially divided area, not integrated, as we describe integration....
7. “Church People Work on the Integration Problem”: The Brethren’s Interracial Work in Baltimore, 1949–1972
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While the 1950s and 1960s are not always remembered as the golden age of interracial and interfaith work in American urban history,1 this chapter shows how the Church of the Brethren, a small, historically white, rural, and pacifist Protestant denomination, helped lead innovative interracial and faith-based work in Baltimore during those critical years. The Brethren undertook...
8. Convergences and Divergences: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements—Baltimore, 1968
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At the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968, King represented the most notable example of an American social activist whose perspective on the social ills of America—indeed of the world—explicitly and vocally linked both civil rights and opposition to war. Exactly one year before his assassination, in a major speech before religious leaders at New York’s Riverside Church, King broke his relative silence...
Part III: Consequences for Education, Business, and Community Organizing
9. The Pats Family: Oral History
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In 1968 Sidney and Ida Pats were resident owners of Downes Brothers Pharmacy, located in the 800 block of West North Avenue, an area hard hit by the Baltimore riot. When the Patses purchased the pharmacy in 1950, their neighbors and customers were primarily white; by 1968 most white residents had either died or moved away and, in a typical pattern of racial succession, African Americans had came to dominate...
10. How the 1968 Riots Stopped School Desegregation in Baltimore
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The Supreme Court rejected racially separate schools in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954. The Baltimore school board quickly voted to end segregation and, with black support, adopted free choice as its strategy. Children would select their schools; integration would be voluntary. The policy moderately...
11. Pivot in Perception: The Impact of the 1968 Riots on Three Baltimore Business Districts
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The events of April 1968 are often used as shorthand in Baltimore City. Residents remember a Baltimore “before the riots,” in which the population was stable, race relations were better than in most cities, crime was low, and commercial life was thriving. They believe that “after the riots,” the city’s population declined rapidly, race relations deteriorated, crime skyrocketed, and businesses...
12. “Where We Live”: Greater Homewood Community Corporation, 1967–1976
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When Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the scenes of civil disturbance that stretched from Washington, D.C., to Chicago to Detroit to Minneapolis were upsetting but not unfamiliar.1 From Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 to Newark, New Jersey, in 1967, Americans were getting used to seeing these flare-ups in the street, whether in their own cities or on television. Even the federal government had taken on the task...
13. Planning for the People: The Early Years of Baltimore’s Neighborhood Design Center
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During the October 1968 national convention of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), Whitney Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, chastised his audience of some four thousand architects for their “thunderous silence and . . . complete irrelevance.” He insisted, “You share the responsibility for the mess we are in, in terms of the white noose...
14. Robert Birt: Oral History
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I was fifteen in 1968 and I lived in the Latrobe Projects, the 900 block to be exact. It’s in East Baltimore, bounded by Madison, Eager, Greenmount, and Aisquith. I was a student at Mergenthaler High School1 at the time. I was somewhat of a precociously dweebish or nerdish kind of kid because I did used to read, which was...
Epilogue: History and Memory: Why It Matters That We Remember
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I am delighted to contribute to this important volume, generated by new and old colleagues and friends who have made such a uniquely Baltimore contribution to historical literacy and civic culture through their efforts....
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Publication Year: 2011