Kyla SommersMay 8, 2023
When the Smoke Cleared
The 1968 Rebellion and the Unfinished Battle for Civil Rights in the Nation's Capital
New Press 2023
In April 1968, following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., a wave of uprisings swept across America. None was more visible—or resulted in more property damage, arrests, or federal troop involvement—than in Washington, DC, where thousands took to the streets in protest against racial inequality, looting and burning businesses in the process. The nation’s capital was shaken to its foundations.
When the Smoke Cleared: The 1968 Rebellion and the Unfinished Battle for Civil Rights in the Nation's Capital (The New Press, 2023) tells the story of the Washingtonians who seized the moment to rebuild a more just society, one that would protect and foster Black political and economic power. A riveting account of activism, urban reimagination, and political transformation, Kyla Sommers’s revealing and deeply researched narrative is ultimately a tale of blowback, as the Nixon administration and its allies in Congress thwarted the ambitions of DC’s reformers, opposing civil rights reforms and self-governance. And nationwide, conservative politicians used the specter of crime in the capital to roll back the civil rights movement and create the modern carceral state.
A vital chapter in the struggle for racial equality, When the Smoke Cleared is an account of open wounds, paths not taken, and their unforeseen consequences—revealed here in all of their contemporary significance.
Dr Kyla Sommers earned her PhD in history at George Washington University. Her writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Washington History journal, and Demand the Impossible: Essays in History as Activism (Westphalia Books, 2018). She is former editor-in-chief of the History News Network, and works as Digital Engagement Editor at American Oversight.
Catriona Gold is a PhD candidate in Geography at University College London. She is currently researching the US Passport Office's role in governing Cold War travel, and broadly interested in questions of security, surveillance and mobility. She can be reached by email, Mastodon or Twitter.