|Baltimore riot of 1968|
|Part of the King assassination riots|
|Date||April 6, 1968- April 14, 1968|
|Location||Baltimore, Maryland, United States
|Caused by||Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.|
|Methods||Rioting, race riots, protests, looting, attacks|
|Parties to the civil conflict|
The Baltimore riot of 1968 was a period of civil unrest that lasted from April 6 to April 14, 1968 in Baltimore. The uprising included crowds filling the streets, burning and looting local businesses, and confronting the police and national guard.
The immediate cause of the riot was the April 4 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee, which triggered unrest in 125 cities across the United States. These events are sometimes described as the Holy Week Uprising.
Spiro Agnew, the Governor of Maryland, called out thousands of National Guard troops and 500 Maryland State Police to quell the disturbance. When it was determined that the state forces could not control the rebellion, Agnew requested Federal troops from President Lyndon B. Johnson.
Between World War II and 1968, Baltimore had changed demographically. The total population remained constant, but the black percentage of the total population had grown, while other populations shrunk (a shift of 200,000 people). Black communities had sub-par housing, high rates of infant mortality, and more crime. They also suffered disproportionately from the decline in Baltimore's manufacturing sector. Black unemployment was more than double the national rate, and even higher in especially poor communities. Those who did have jobs were paid less and worked in unsafe conditions.
With the spread of civil disturbances across the nation, Maryland National Guard troops were called up for state duty on April 5, 1968, in anticipation of disturbances in Baltimore or the suburban portions of Maryland bordering Washington, DC.
Black Baltimore was quiet on April 5, despite riots in nearby Washington, D.C.. One white student at UMBC reported a quiet scene, with noticeable sadness, but little violence or unrest: April 5, "in many cases, was just another day".
Baltimore remained peaceful into the day on April 6. Three hundred people gathered peacefully around noon for a memorial service, which lasted until 2 pm without incident. Street traffic began to increase. A crowd formed on Gay St. in East Baltimore, and by 5 pm some windows on the 400 block had been smashed. Police began to move in. People began to report fires after 6 pm. Soon after, the city declared a 10 pm curfew and called in 6,000 troops from the national guard. Sales of alcohol and firearms were immediately banned. At this point, some reports described about a thousand people in the crowd, which moved north on Gay St. up to Harford Rd. and Greenmount Ave. Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III was unable to respond effectively. Around 8 pm, Governor Agnew declared a state of emergency.
By the morning of April 7, reports to the White House described five deaths, 300 fires, and 404 arrests. Unrest also broke out on Pennsylvania Ave in West Baltimore. At one point, a mob of white counter-rioters assembled near Patterson Park; they dispersed after National Guard troops prevented them from entering a black neighborhood.
Violence decreased after April 9, and the Baltimore Orioles played their opening game the next day, though the April 12 James Brown concert remained cancelled. On the afternoon of April 9, federal troops dispersed crowds at a permitted peace rally, apparently unaware that General Gelston had issued a permit for the event. The situation was diffused by Major William "Box" Harris, the highest-ranking police officer in the city.
When violent protest broke out in Baltimore on April 6, nearly the entire Maryland National Guard, both Army and Air, were called up to deal with the unrest. The notable exceptions were the state's air defense units (which manned surface-to-air missile sites around the state), those units already on duty in the Washington, DC area, and a unit positioned in Cambridge, Maryland (the site of race riots in 1963 and 1967). The Adjutant General of Maryland, Major General George M. Gelston, commanded the National Guard force and also was given control of local and state police forces in the city (approximately 1,900 police officers).
The combined National Guard and police force proved unable to contain the uprising and on Sunday, April 7, federal troops were requested. Late that evening, elements of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg, North Carolina began arriving on the scene, while several Marine units from Camp Lejeune were put on standby status. With the intervention of federal forces, the Maryland National Guard was called into federal duty, resulting in a shift from state control (reporting to the Governor of Maryland) to federal control (reporting through the Army chain of command to the President). The federal force, Task Force Baltimore, was organized into three brigades and a reserve. These were (roughly), the XVIII Airborne Corps troops, the Maryland National Guard, and troops from the 197th Infantry Brigade from Fort Benning, Georgia (which arrived two days later). The 1,300 troops of the Maryland Air National Guard were organized in a provisional battalion and used to guard critical infrastructure throughout the city, as well as an ad hoc detention facility at the Baltimore Civic Center. Task Force Baltimore peaked at 11,570 Army and National Guard troops on April 9, of which all but about 500 were committed to riot control duties.
Unrest continued for several days as the Task Force sought to reassert control. Early on April 12, federal troops began to depart and by 6 pm that evening responsibility for riot control returned to the National Guard. At midnight Task Force Baltimore ceased to exist and the remainder of federal troops were withdrawn. Maryland National Guard troops remained on duty in the city until April 14, when Maryland Governor Spiro Agnew declared the emergency over and sent them home.
After action reports credited both the National Guard and active Army forces for being extremely disciplined and restrained in dealing with the disturbance, with only four shots fired by National Guard troops and two by active Army troops. These forces had received orders to avoid firing their weapons, as part of an intentional strategy to decrease fatalities.
A total of 10,956 troops had been deployed.
In the next few days, six people died, 700 were injured, and 5,800 were arrested. 1,000 small businesses were damaged or robbed. Property damages, assessed financially, were more severe in DC ($15 million), Baltimore ($12 million), and Chicago ($10 million) than in any other cities. Most damage was done within the rioters' own neighborhoods.
In addition, an active Army soldier died in a traffic accident while redeploying from the city. Rioters set more than 1,200 fires during the disturbance. Damage was estimated at over $12 million (equivalent to $77.5 million today).
Of the arrests, 3,488 were for curfew violations, 955 for burglary, 665 for looting, 391 for assault, and 5 for arson.
One of the major outcomes of the uprising was the attention Spiro Agnew received when he criticized local black leaders for not doing enough to help stop the disturbance. These statements caught the attention of Richard Nixon, who was looking for someone on his ticket who could counter George Wallace's American Independent Party third party campaign. Agnew became Nixon's vice presidential running mate in 1968.
The uprising had broken out mainly in the black neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore in which extensive property damage and looting occurred. Many of the businesses destroyed in the uprising were located along the main commercial avenues of the neighborhoods and were often owned by people of a Jewish background.
Media and academic coverage of the events has been thin, partly because the event remains emotional for those involved.
The uprising is mentioned on Baltimore based police dramas Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire. On Homicide it is mentioned as one of Lt. Al Giardello and Detective Stuart Gharty's first assignments on the episodes "Black and Blue" and "Shades of Gray." On The Wire, it is mentioned on "Boys of Summer" as an event that proved problematic for a former Baltimore Mayor that at the same time enabled Maryland's Governor to become a vice presidential nominee.
Long before rioting broke out in Baltimore, Governor Spiro Agnew and his staff worried that their biggest threat came from Washington; at 11:00 P.M. on Friday, he alerted the Maryland National Guard and called General George Gelston to duty, deploying him not to Baltimore but to the state armory in Silver Spring, a D.C. suburb. The Guard even had an emergency plan, Operation Tango, for riots that spread north from the District.