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Did Dr. Martin Luther King's death cause the April Riots?

The world was shocked — stunned, by the death of Dr. Martin Luther King.
Then, in swift succession, riots, arson, looting and killing broke out in dozens of U.S. cities.
World leaders flocked to his funeral.
Eulogies and praises for Dr. King could be heard — even from
'those who only weeks before had called him "rabble rouser."


HFARING of the shocking and brutal murder of Dr. Martin Luther King filled me with a sense of outrage, sorrow — and foreboding. I had just returned to Los Angeles on that fateful Thursday, after witnessing the blast-off of America's huge Saturn V rocket from Cape Kennedy in one more of the preliminary tests to America's planned flights to the moon.

What a paradox!

That morning, I had seen over one hundred million dollars' worth of taxpayers' money thundering into space. I had seen what appeared to be a completely successful (only later, we learned trouble with the second and third stage engines made it less than that) space launch — a monolithic, towering giant the height of a 36-story building slowly — slowly, with earth-shaking, clattering, staccato, body-throbbing explosions, gather speed, and hurtle out of sight into the eastern sky.

The space shot was the culmination of millions of man-hours of dedicated work. The result of cooperation — unity — harmony! Here was the result of literally thousands of persons of every conceivable background, with hundreds of different corporations manufacturing different components — all blending together with fierce dedication to produce a gleaming metal giant that would gulp fifteen tons of fuel every second — a spectacular sight; one that set the gallery of professional newsmen to cheering in spontaneous outburst at the sight of a success for the United States.

Then, later that same Thursday — came the shocking news of the attack on Dr. King. Yes, what a paradox! What irony it is that our vaunted technology can demonstrate to the world COOPERATION, dedication, unity, HARMONY, in producing bigger and more powerful THINGS! In manufacturing the vehicles that can carry man (or hydrogen bombs?) around the world in orbit, or into outer space.

Yet we cannot seem to produce better men.

Just as one tiny valve — one tiny leak in a fuel line — one tiny, faulty transistor, could cause that huge missile to fail; so could one twisted, sick mind, hiding in a sleazy boarding house, cause a whole nation to falter!


Wrong Priorities! Wrong Goals!

What IRONY it is that we can appear so dedicated to greater engines which can be used for mass destruction — and so utterly APART when it comes to the needs of human beings!

In the wake of the bloodletting, rioting, looting and arson that followed the assassination of Dr. King — Americans reflected on the subject of race.

Many well-known Negroes, previously known for their high tolerance level — their commendable objectivity — suddenly made statements tainted with bitterness and doubt.

Many well-known whites — among them leaders in many areas of society — who had previously spoken out against Dr. King, were suddenly making statements of outrage, sorrow, and — was it shame?

Obviously — whether it was reflected in anger and resentment, or in shame and sorrow — the death of Dr. King was a deep emotional experience for the whole nation.

I couldn't help viewing these two momentous experiences in contrast.

First, I had been physically shaken, the sound waves reaching me with literal physical shock, by the launch I had witnessed that morning. Then, within hours, I was again shaken, this time emotionally, by the news of yet another anarchical assassination in our country!

To me — the contrast of seeing the harmony and unity on the one hand, and the disharmony and chaos on the other — was inescapable.

Reflecting on the priorities of a nation willing to spend multiple hundreds of billions on the space race on the one hand — and either unwilling or unable to provide means to solve its own domestic problems on the other — I couldn't help but marvel at the irrationality of such priorities!

For all our scientific greatness — we haven't learned to live together in peace. For all our technology; our military machine; our industrial capacity — the man himself seems shriveled, little, somehow smaller.

What is our goal?

Is it to become better human beings? Or find out whether the moon can be colonized?

Is it to devote ourselves to discovering WHAT WE ARE — or to find out what the moon is made of?

Benson — Black Star

Mourners walk through Atlanta, Georgia in funeral procession for
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. — slain by a sniper's bullet on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee.
Mule-drawn wagon carries casket of Dr. King.


Riots Erupt

Never before in the history of the nation had so many cities become the scene of mob violence so suddenly. Beleaguered police forces simply couldn't handle the massive task assigned to them — had to be reinforced by National Guardsmen and Federal troops.

As if in symbol of the nation's deep racial sickness, black, towering clouds of smoke framed the executive mansion and the Capitol building.

In Washington, D.C., seven persons were killed in a mad, wild orgy of arson, looting and shooting. Bands of looters roamed the streets in automobiles — openly defying curfews, smashing store windows and carrying off goods in full view of newsmen and police.

In hundreds of cases, looters went gaily about their crimes while police stood by — under orders to avoid violence wherever possible. Roaming bands smashed store windows and looted shops within two blocks of the White House. On one occasion, looters struggled for long minutes with a five-foot-long hi-fi set, attempting to force it into a small foreign sports car. Police, who had been watching the whole affair, finally arrested them.

Looters broke windows, then stood watching to see what the police reaction would be. When the police did nothing, the mobs moved in and ransacked the stores. Uncounted millions in losses, in literally dozens of U.S. cities were chalked up to looting alone — with additional uncounted millions in property losses. It will never be known what the mad, wanton violence cost taxpayers in the maintenance of Federal troops in riot areas, or in the precise amount of money lost in looting.

But what was lost psychologically — racially — was perhaps more costly.

Americans were shocked to see machine guns mounted around the Capitol building — Federal troops protecting the nation's government buildings from its own citizens!

As if on cue — almost as if planned — literally dozens of American cities erupted in violence. Washington, D.C. counted 7 persons killed, 1,166 injured, 7,370 arrested — more than 700 fires set, amounting to more than 15 million dollars in insured damages alone.

Quickly, Chicago, Baltimore, and other large cities exploded in violence. It took over 10,000 troops to restore a semblance of order in Baltimore, where 6 were counted dead, and about 900 injured. Around 5,500 were arrested, and more than 10 million dollars lost in more than 250 separate cases of arson.

The rioters in Baltimore followed a near workaday schedule. They took breaks for lunch and dinner — slept through much of the night, then began fire-bombing and looting again through the mornings and evenings.

In Chicago, it took 7,000 National Guardsmen and 5,000 Federal troops before most of the pillaging was brought under control. Still, 11 were killed in Chicago, with about 1,000 injured and more than 2,000 arrested. Property damage soared to more than 10 million dollars, and more than 1,000 persons (most of them black, living in Negro areas of the city) were left homeless.

In the wake of Chicago's riots — many store owners said they would simply refuse to rebuild — would stay out of business.

And from tiny town to big cities, violence flared and burned across the length and breadth of America.

The list of cities seems endless. More than one hundred and twenty-five cities in 29 states and the District of Columbia reported violence — including Birmingham, Mobile, Denver, New Haven, Jacksonville, Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, Des Moines, Wichita, New Orleans, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Cleveland, Kansas City, Mo., Newark, New York, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dayton, Toledo, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville, Richmond, Seattle and Tacoma.

At least 39 persons were killed, and more than 3,500 injured. More than 20,000 were arrested, and more than 2,600 fires set. Property damage was estimated at more than forty-five million dollars in insured losses, with millions upon millions more in other losses and costs.

In all, 68,887 troops were used, including 15,000 in Washington, 11,000 in Baltimore, 12,000 in Chicago, 4,000 in Detroit, 4,500 in Pittsburgh and 3,000 in Kansas City, Missouri.

Many saw, symbolized by the view through national television cameras of the Capitol building and White House etched-in a background of black smoke, a virtual revolution in America.