Fifty years ago, the United States, and many other societies, experienced one of the most turbulent years of the century. In 1968, Americans were deeply divided. The Vietnam War was at its height, an antiwar movement raged, the racial and women’s equality movements continued, and new activism surrounding gay rights, the environment, Native Americans' treatment and other topics was emerging. These political controversies were accompanied by significant unrest and disruption in the streets. After Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in early April, some of the most intense conflict occurred. Riots broke out in cities across the nation as frustration exploded into angry over continued inequality and King’s death. In his new book, Most of 14th Street Is Gone: The Washington, DC Riots of 1968
(Oxford University Press, 2018), J. Samuel Walker
closely examines the riots that occurred in Washington, DC, some of the worst of that moment.
In this episode of the podcast, Walker discusses his research into the riots. His book sets them in the context of the city's longer residential and racial history. It examines how the government prepared for a riot and how it actually responded when one occurred. The book also provides a detailed hour by hour discussion of how the riots unfolded and were experienced. In our discussion on this episode, Walker explains how the riots grew out of a longer history of racial inequality in Washington, DC, and how the events affected numerous groups living and working in the area. Finally, we talk about the challenges of researching a chaotic and controversial event like a riot.
Christine Lamberson is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th century U.S. political and cultural history. She’s currently working on a book manuscript about the role of violence in shaping U.S. political culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She can be reached at email@example.com.