Where were you when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968? The Aftermath of the Chicago Riots
The initial reaction
There was a time in the history of my life that I can all too well remember. That day has stuck in my mind all these years and I still tell my children of that vivid memory.
It was April 4, 1968, my fourth birthday. All I can remember was that I heard on the television that someone had been killed. At that time in my life of course, I did not fully understand what had taken place. But I heard my mother talking about someone by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been shot dead. As I watched the television, I saw images of people crying, and police cars rolling up and down the street. Two days went by and I heard my mother saying that the buildings were being set on fire and that people were out in the streets looting the stores. She also said that the police were out in full force trying stop the people from stealing from the various businesses.
I was also shocked at all the violence that was going on. The police were using dogs as weapons to attack people. The firemen were using fire hoses to clear the streets from looters. I did hear that the mayor had instructed the police to shoot down any criminals that were causing any damage to city property. What a time of civil unrest in our community!!
I remember that while all this was going on, the lights in our apartment had went out. In fact, the whole neighborhood was in total darkness. All you could see was the headlights from the cars. This was an extremely scary time for me and my three older sisters. My mother somehow was able to get home from work to get us. She asked one of her friends to drive us to our grandmother's house. I tell you, I never had seen such chaos in all my young life. I saw down power lines, burning buildings, overturned cars. The police were out patrolling the streets from early morning until late in the evening.
By the time we got to our grandmother's house, my aunts and uncles and their children were all there as well. I remember my grandmother had candles burning, lanterns lit so that we could maneuver our way through the dark apartment. We all had made makeshift beds on the floor because only so many of us could only sleep in the three bedrooms. Morning had come and we were all safe, and my grandmother somehow managed to fix us all breakfast. As the day went on, we all eventually went back to our separate homes, but what we saw on the outside was like nothing we had never seen. It was like living in another world. It was sheer destruction everywhere.
Fast forward some thirty years later, in the neighborhood where I grew up on the west side of Chicago, around Roosevelt Road and Spaulding Avenue, there were major renovations as far as businesses and apartment buildings. For so long, it seemed as if there was no one that cared enough to want to bring our community back to life. The riots had destroyed so much of a once thriving area of neighborhood stores, barbershops, grocery stores and furniture stores and many other businesses. I often wondered why it took so long for the elected officials and community leaders of that time to come up with solutions to fix up our city.
When we lost Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., we lost a great humanitarian and we lost our city as well. But out of that loss has come a change for the better. While it has taken a long time to revitalize our communities, we still have a long way to go.