I was watching a documentary about the Vietnam War last night while news of the Baltimore riots came in. Fifty years after the turbulence and madness of the 1960’s, we as a society have apparently learned nothing. Pointless wars continue. Cities burn. The same gaping inequalities are still present (and if anything, worse.)
Saying rioters should have been peaceful misses the point completely. This is anger from people with very little left to lose. However, riots can and do devastate areas for decades afterwards.
Hartford CT had one of the worst records for riots back then, every year for about 17 years, I believe.. The 1968 riot in the North End of Hartford when Martin Luther King was murdered was one of their worst. In 2008, 40 years later, the area still had not recovered.
The riots exacerbated trends that were already in motion – businesses closed and never reopened, the white middle class fled and investment stalled in this North End neighborhood that is in sight, but out of reach, of downtown’s wealth.
Former city Councilman Steven Harris, who was fighting in the jungles of Vietnam when he learned of King’s assassination, returned home in May 1968 to a different Hartford from the one he had left.
“When I got back from ‘Nam, it was almost as if whites had left north Hartford overnight,” Harris said. “The drugstores were gone, they were burned. The bakeries were gone, they were burned.
“Overnight we went from a kind of community that had drugstores, supermarkets, bakeries – to a neighborhood that had nothing. Including white folks,” Harris said. “They all left.”
“That’s the effect that is still there. We don’t have a supermarket, not one supermarket, in north Hartford,” he said. “If you look at Albany Avenue, that’s the effect of the riots of ’68. Emptiness.”
“That’s 40 years ago,” Stewart said. “We have not recovered from that.”
MC5 version of a John Lee Hooker song about the Detroit riot.
You know, the Motor City is burning people
There ain’t a thing in the world they can do
My home town burning down to the ground
Worse than Vietnam
The fire wagons kept comin’, baby
But the Black Panther snipers wouldn’t let them put it out.