Author Topic: HILLBILLY VIEWS: Riots in Washington D.C. (Four Parts)  (Read 4011 times)

Offline Lion

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HILLBILLY VIEWS: Riots in Washington D.C. (Four Parts)
« on: July 30, 2009, 03:02:38 pm »
Part I

http://hillbillyviews.blogspot.com/2009/06/in-neighborhood-day-1-24-hours.html

Monday, June 8, 2009

In the Neighborhood, Day 1 - 24 Hours

That day was one of those moments in an a lifetime that never should be forgotten mostly because the history books will never tell the truth. I was there and the things I saw, heard and experienced during April 4-5, 1968 and for several days afterward deserve to be retold by one who listened, saw and lived through those days.

On the evening of April 4, I remember leaving my part time job and running to the bus stop a little after 9 p.m. and being surprised that I actually was able to find a seat. In the far distance I heard sirens and fire trucks...not so unusual in Washington, D.C. The store where I worked my second job was just off Capitol Hill and not too far from the neighborhood that was undergoing the 60's version of Urban Renewal except we more accurately called it... Negro Removal. The sirens and the sound of emergency vehicles made me curious and I remember looking through the bus window while idly wondering what could possibly be going on. I wouldn't know what had happened until I walked into my apartment door and my roommate told me that Dr. King had been assassinated in Memphis! She then idly added that the radio said folks were rioting on 13th Street N.W.

I had been in Detroit visiting Marilyn just before the riots started at 12th and Grand River so the riot news didn't bother me as much as the news about the death of Dr. King. Soon the neighbors began ringing the doorbell. All of us were graduate students at Howard University so we had sort of adopted each other as extended family. We had also lived through the assassination of John F. Kennedy, a man we had such high hopes for. The death of M.L. King was like losing a close family member...a beloved older cousin or uncle....so we banded together just like all families do when death strikes unexpectedly and horribly. We watched the news, we listened to the radio, and we talked into the night. By the next morning...the local news were still discussing the assassination but they did say ....that the riots were over so.... every one got up and went to work.

The riots were NOT over. By noon..it was apparent that fires had been set because the smoke was hanging over Northwest D.C. One of my co-workers came to my classroom to tell me her husband was coming from Virginia to get her and did I want to go home with them because the riots were close to where I lived. I refused her offer but promised that if I felt in danger, I would catch the bus to Arlington. She left the building. Shortly thereafter..school was dismissed and again I caught the bus to my apartment off Adams Mill Road. Everyone on the bus was talking about the riots. Was I afraid? No, I wasn't...but I was curious and while riding home and listening to the various conversations surrounding me...I decided to go and see for myself....AND...take my camera..that trusty Argus C-3 that I had managed to buy from a photographer friend when I was an undergraduate.

As soon as I got home, I rushed to the bedroom to put on my jeans and a sweat shirt. My room mate demanded to know where I was going and I told her..I was headed to 13th or 14th and Park Road to see for myself exactly what was going on. Her next question was blurted out, "Wasn't I afraid?" I shook my head no and reminded her that I had worked in the area since 1965 and lived in the area since early 1967. Since I didn't have a car, folks were used to seeing me....at Cardozo High School, in the shopping district, at Wings and Things...lots of places. Like any city neighborhood...you might not know names but you recognized faces you saw regularly.
Besides, I thought to myself, if folks were really rioting...what would be threatening about another black face?

Finally, I relented and told her to stick her (straightened) shoulder length hair under a faucet and pick it out. There was no way I was going in the middle of the neighborhood with someone who looked out of place. After all...we were still in the Civil Rights era and Afrocentric hair styles raised no eyebrows and caused no undue attention. The humidity in D.C. solved that problem for me....my hair was never straight! I do remember having to tell her why she needed the Afro and why she couldn't go out looking like "Miss Social Worker." Finally we were ready and my camera was loaded. We left the aopartment and walked up to Columbia Road...and ran into a youngster of maybe 12 or 13 years. He was carrying an armload of dress shirts...good dress shirts. He wallked up to usa and said, "Here Sister, take these...I don't want them and I have to go back!" Here we were two grown women standing on the sidewalk..holding probably 30 men's shirts. In shock, my roommate looked at me and asked, "What are we going to do with this?" I remember thinking...we'd better take them home...because getting caught with an armload of stolen shirts would probably hjave gotten me fired. We went back to the apartment.

Once more we started out toward 14th Street. The smoke was getting heavier to the point where the sun could not be seen (if it was out.....I really don't remember). The shopping area had been destroyed...windows were broken, people were walking back and forth across the street ...walking in and out of stores..picking up anything they wanted or thought they wanted. No vehicles moved on a normally busy street...just people...carrying whatever. I snapped pictures, here, there, over there and was fine until I snapped a picture of a line of D.C. cops standing there..not moving, not saying anything, just standing. One swung his billy club and started toward me demanding my camera and threatening to arrest us. I snapped his picture and kept on walking backwards. I set no fires, I looted no stores and I would be damned if a cop was going to arrest me for taking pictures...besides, I still had my Kentucky Press Association identification card...so he couldn'y say I wasn't legal.

My roommate was having a panic attack so we left 14th street and started across the neighborhood toward 7th Street (Georgia Avenue) and U street. By the time we got there, we were confronted with a combination line of D.C. cops and National Guardsmen (I guess) in riot gear. Never in my entire life had I seen such a massive force of men. There they stood, shoulder to shoulder to shoulder in an unbroken line along U Street as far as I could see. I walked toward the line and found myself facing an impassive soldier who , speaking out of the corner of his mouth, said, "You young ladies need to go home NOW...GET OFF THESE STREETS! The orders have been given, at 5:00...we are going to cloear these streets and anyone we catch still out here is going to Lorton (a federal prison in nearby Virginia).."

It was time to go and we headed home..walking down U Street to 18th..then up 18th Street to Columbia Road. By 5:00 we are back in the apartment. April 5th, 1968
in the neighborhood came to an end, almost...because Martial Law had been declared and a curfew was in effect. Imagine my surprise at 10 p.m. when someone pounded on the door. I looked out through the peephole and there stood my brother in full Army uniform! I opended the door and in he came. "How did you get here? I thought there was a curfew?"

"Of course there is a curfew but what idiot in his right mind would question an Army Lt. Colonel? After all, who in blue blazes(a rephrase of a more colorful statement) do you think is enforcing the curfew? Daddy called, he says he can't get through and he figured out that you live right in the middle of this mess. I am supposed to find out if you are all right!" What could I say? Even my brother couldn't argue with a 73 year old parent. I assured him that I was just fine, loaded up the men's shirts that the kid had dumped on us, put them in a garbage bag and handed them to my brother. He glared at me, took the garbage bag and announced that he was going home, he'd call Daddy and I had better keep my behind in the apartment because he was not coming back into the District if I got myself in trouble. He left and I went to bed. The first 24 hours had ended.

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Offline Lion

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Re: HILLBILLY VIEWS: Riots in Washington D.C. (Four Parts)
« Reply #1 on: July 30, 2009, 03:04:09 pm »
Part II

http://hillbillyviews.blogspot.com/2009/06/in-neighborhood-day-2-and-3-48-72-hours.html

Monday, June 8, 2009

In the Neighborhood, Day 2 and 3 - 48-72 Hours

Martin Luther King was dead. The people had, in frustration and anger,lost control, rioted , looted and burned. Washington, D. C. was under martial law with a 24 hour curfew. Here we were.... a generation that had sat in, gone on freedom rides, marched in the company of hundreds and thousands of people, integrated schools, worked in voter registration drives, listened to the speeches of Stokely Carmichael(Kwame Toure) and the music of Nina Simone (Mississippi Goddam) and found ourselves encouraged by the words and wisdom of Dr. King and now...in the blink of an eye everything had changed.

We looked through our apartment windows and the only traffic we could see on nearby streets were military vehicles. This was America? A jeep patrols our streets---a soldier in uniform drives, a cop in uniform sits in the jump seat and in the back seat is another soldier with a mounted machine gun! A loudspeaker blares...."This city is under martial law, do not come out of your houses, any person seen on the street will be arrested.." over and over again. We look at each other...there is nothing to say...we are in shock...never in our lives have we been subjected to such blanket hostile, prison like confinement. Little freedoms like taking a morning cup of coffee out the door of your apartment building and sitting on the stone bench to the right of the entrance in the poarking lot that you pay rent for each month and less than ten minutes later...the infernal jeep turns into the parking lot with the loudspeaker blaring and the bullhorn blares again "...do not come out of your houses..." We go back inside and stand in the lobby of our apartment building looking at the street. There really is nothing to say that we all aren't thinking,
in the space of forty eight hours we have lost one of the greatest men of our times to a bullet without conscience and we have lost a significant amount of our so-called personal inalienable rights. The phones don't work so there is no contact beyond the immediate building. Television news tells you no more than you already know. The consensus from everyone in the building is that THIS IS SCARY AS HELL!

Throughout the day we wander through the apartment building...visiting apartment to apartment..just to have some company...just to make sure that our surrogate family is still intact. If one of us has food, we all have food, if one of us has shelter, we all have shelter. None of us want to be alone...the prospect is too frightening. We feel as if our security, our sense of safety has been stripped from us and a great sense of helplessness surrounds us. As the day lengthens, the women cling to one group but the men are getting restless.....they are feeling threatened....unable to protect their homes, families, turf from danger that can only be identified as "THEM."

Rob finally gets a phone call from his boss at the liquor store. Can he get up to the store and see if it is okay? Four or five of the fellows decide that as soon as it gets dark, they will go. After all...the store is barely two blocks away and it is possible to get there through the alleys which are not being patrolled. Besides the Jewish family that owns the store has been known to cash our checks....lend us money (without interest) near the end of the month and provide an emergency job on occasion. That's how Rob got his job when his wife was off her government job on maternity leave and they needed food and formula money. If the people decide to riot and loot again...someone has to protect those who protect us! Up to this time the trouble had been no closer than the business district on 14th Street but who knows what will happen when it is dark outside? After all there is a grocery store on Columbia Road and no matter how many armed jeeps patrol the streets...human eyes can still spot headlights and street lights do not survive bricks!

The women exchange looks and decide the men are not going alone. We will cut through different alleys to see what is happening. The men go early because Rob has a key to the store. We wait a while, put on some dark clothes and head to Columbia Road. We decide to forget the alleys and just walk up the street. There is a house with wide steps near Columbia Road....in clear view of the store where the guys are keeping watch. We sit on the steps and tell the fellow that rents the house to go inside and keep his mouth shut. I guess he was intimidated by six women sitting on his steps because he went back inside. We waited...not exactly sure what we were waiting on...talked quietly and watched the streets. It was nearly midnight when we heard men coming from the 16th Street side...men who made absolutely no attempt at being quiet. They were going to hit the liquor store. The five fellows from our building, opened the door to the store and looked out...then they walked out to meet the newcomers. "No, you guys are not going to hit this liquor store! The folks that own this store are good to us and they are part of our neighborhood, some of us work here and there is no way we are going to let you do this. If you have to have booze, try the store across the street! He doesn't like us, doesn't cash our checks, only lets one of us in the store at a time and we could care less what happens to him!" Five black men stood solidly in front of a Jewish owned liquor store that night and the mob moved on...across Columbia Road.

We six women sat and watched as the mob broke the plate glass store front and went into the corner liquor store. Within less than ten minutes...two police cruisers pulled up and shone their spotlights in the store. They ordered the mob out under penalty of arrest and a trip to Lorton. As soon as the mob dispersed...the cops looked around...did not spot us sitting on the steps and...they went into the liquor store and started carrying out boxes of booze until the National Guard showed up with their jeeps and ordered them out! Oh no, this story is not over...women are invisible you know. As soon as the cops drove off...the National Guard went in and finished the job of cleaning out the liquor store. Then one of them spotted us and demanded that we go home. We yelled back that we were home and it was too hot to be in without a fan or some way to keep cool. After all..we were only women. Two of the guardsmen walked over to us and gave each one of us a bottle. Other than that, they left us alone and drove off.

When we heard glass breaking ast the grocery store, we decided it was time to go home. We left and headed to our building. This was the first day of martial law and the second day of life without MLK.

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Offline Lion

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Re: HILLBILLY VIEWS: Riots in Washington D.C. (Four Parts)
« Reply #2 on: July 30, 2009, 03:06:16 pm »
Part III

http://hillbillyviews.blogspot.com/2009/06/in-neighborhood-midnight-between-day-2.html

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

In the Neighborhood, Midnight between Day 2 and 3

The women returned to the apartment building. We needed to talk, our emotions were on edge. We hadn't looted, we hadn't burned, but each one of us had returned carrying a bottle of alcohol from the looted liquor store. The random comments we tossed around were mirrored reflections of both our confusion and our innermost thoughts.....

"Can you believe this...the cops and the National Guard?"

"Wonder if they live in the neighborhood?"

"At least they left Manny's alone.."

"That's because the fellows were there...maybe"

"The fellows couldn't have stopped that mob if they had really wanted to bust out Manny's.."

"I don't like this martial law nonsense...do you really think they would have shot us?"

"Hell yes, they would have shot us...we're BLACK and they think all of us are looting.."

"The guy on the corner got busted because he has such a nasty attitude...plus he overcharges on everything... he and doing right are not acquainted..."

"Why do you think 14th Street got burned out? Almost everybody I know shopped there. Couple of those businesses were black-owned."

"You ever been in that grocery store at 14th and Clifton? The meat in there is spoiled rotten...you can smell it from the doorway..."

"You know...I heard they truck in that bad meat from the suburban stores...our store is not like that..."

"Course our store isn't, we pay more rent than the folks in the apartments at 14th and Clifton..."

"There's more white people in this neighborhood...the only white people on Clifton are those two guys who teach at Cardozo....those Peace Corps teachers..."

"How long is this sh*t going to last...if I don't go to work, I don't get paid..."

"You and everybody else..."

"Are the fellows back yet?"

"Don't think they are coming til morning..Somebody else might try hitting Manny's..."


"With Dr. King dead,,,,who's gonna' lead the Movement?"

"You got through to your folks yet...I can't get a call outside the area"

"You got an extra pillow...and a blanket...I'm not staying in that apartment by myself..I'm sleeping here til Baby gets back..."

We all stayed in one apartment that night.

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Offline Lion

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Re: HILLBILLY VIEWS: Riots in Washington D.C. (Four Parts)
« Reply #3 on: July 30, 2009, 03:08:06 pm »
Part IV

http://hillbillyviews.blogspot.com/2009/06/in-neighborhood-days-and-weeks-after.html

Friday, June 12, 2009

In the Neighborhood, Days and Weeks After

The peach brandy I brought home from the destruction of the corner liquor store sat in my picture window for a long long time. It was not in a place of honor, it was not a souvenir, it was only a reminder....of some of the darkest days that I have ever seen before or since. The artificial bonding that took place in the apartment building was just that an artificial response to to an unforeseen and uncontrollable external threat. Martial law (and the media and the government would gloss over its occurrence for two generations) did not make any of us feel protected...it made us feel threatened...threatened in a way that racist demonstrations, water hoses, KKK lynchings, police beatings, cops running amok, had never done. Facing a machine gun...not in a time of war...in your own neighborhood; recognizing that so called "law and order" had not protected Martin Luther King and a few weeks later did not protect Robert F. Kennedy, was an earth shattering, life changing occurrence.

All of us were required personally and as a group to 1) face our own mortality, 2)face the depth of frustration and anger that permeates the black community, 3) face the inability of the government to handle the extremes of convergent human emotion, 4)face the limits of our idealism and our view of a perfect world and 5) face our overriding humanity as we faced an uncertain and out of control future. When an individual is 20 something this mindset is very unsettling. In simple terms, where do we go from here?

When I returned to my classroom, I was welcomed by my students who for the most part had been worried about me. They knew (in general) where I lived and in theory how close the riots had been to me, I was glad to see them for a much and less different reason...they represented a return to "normal" life or in other terms, "life as it should be." Truly there is never a return to normal because horrific events affect all of us. Change is constant, change can not be controlled by any one person, it is controlled by the actions of all human beings...negatively or positively.

One of my students, whom I will call Rick, had questions for me. Would I be honest with him? His father had owned a business in the middle of one of the areas virtually destroyed by the rioters. He also owned some apartment buildings near my neighborhood. When Rick mentioned the business his father owned, I realized I knew of the business by reputation. That reputation had been neither good or bad, it was simply a business in a declining neighborhood. Then he asked me about the apartment buildings near my neighborhood and my heart sank. I knew those buildings...I knew some people who lived rhere. The dilemma was huge for me. I might not know anything negative about the business on the other side of town but I did know more then enough about the apartment buildings. How could I answer him? Finally I told him that I would prefer that he do his own research...take the bus over and check things out for himself.

After he left my classroom, I began to worry because I knew what he would find out and I found myself wondering if I should have sent him to 14th Street. His safety was not the issue, I knew he would not be bothered in broad open daylight but....his disillusionment with his father's management inaction could have been devastating. My lingering question rises from two different points of view. The son was 17 years old, a rising senior in high school. As his teacher, I had gained his trust...I would answer any question my students asked as honestly and truthfully as I could and they knew that. From that viewpoint, Rick deserved an answer.

As a young black woman who had dealt with Civil Rights issues....I knew what Rick would find out...his father was a fairly typical slum lord of the times. He collected the rent and put nothing back into the maintenance of his buildings. I had visited a former student who lived in one of his rental units and had seen massive holes in the walls..not holes caused from a fist through the wall...but holes caused by water leaking form one floor to the next. The quarrel was not with the son but it did lie somewhere in the chain of responsibility with the father, directly or indirectly. My former student, the tenant, deserved an answer. As for me...I had placed myself in the middle of what could be a perfect storm!

The next day, Rick came back to see me. The look of determination on his face was chiseled in stone. What ever had happened...his mind was made up. "You knew, didn't you?" I nodded my head. "Why didn't you tell me?" The only answer I could give him was that he needed to know for himself...not from the mouth of a third party. He looked at me and finally said, "I took pictures and then I went home and developed them. Then I had a long conversation with my Dad." I was scared for him....I had no idea what his father would say. Rick watched my reaction for a couple of minutes before continuing his story. 'My Dad is giving me the buildings and I am moving in next weekend!"

To say I was shocked would be a grave understatement. Over the summer and the following year, even more surprises were coming. Rick moved in and promptly called a tenant's meeting. He introduced himself and announced that he now owned these three buildings and that he had moved in. He then announced the firing of the so-called resident management person and asked each tenant to list all maintenance issues within their units. Then he asked for volunteers to help fix the issues. From what I heard from people I knew who lived in his buildings, enough people were willing to help especially after they saw Rick get to work. Word traveled that the landlord had moved in and he might be young but he played no games.

The grocery store that sold spoiled meat was the first tenant to be evicted. The rumor flew through the neighborhood that the landlord had called the health department and stood watching while ALL the spoiled groceries were thrown out! What I do know is that another grocery store opened in the cleaner space and I didn't hear about any more spoiled food. A year later when I drove by the buildings shortly before I left D.C. for an out of state job, the buildings were freshly painted and the exteriors were definitely cleaned up. After I left D.C, I do not know what happened to Rick but he left me with heightened hopes for the future. When an 18 year-old from a privileged background was willing to take a stand against his own father...I could see a glimmer of sunshine.

History books do not tell this part of the story...the positive awakening that affected people such as Rick (no, that is not his real name). History books tell us that the revival of the burned out areas took a long, long time. The human (people) aspect is ignored or skipped altogether perhaps because the truths behind the riots were not pretty and did not fit the picture that we call the American Dream. Even today ...41 years later...there is no measurable attempt to analyze these truths.

I offer no answers but I urge the current generation of young adults to remember that we are indeed our brothers' keepers. We can not control the crazies that kill good people rather than change their insane ways but we can extend a helping hand to our neighbors.

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