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1968 Chicago riots

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Title: 1968 Chicago riots  
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Subject: King assassination riots, Chicago race riot of 1919, African-American Civil Rights Movement (1954–68), Dominick Harrod, Maarten van Rossem
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1968 Chicago riots

1968 Chicago Riots
Date April 5, 1968 (1968-04-05) – April 6, 1968 (1968-04-06)
Location Chicago, Illinois, United States
Causes Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Methods Rioting, race riots, protests, looting, attacks
Parties to the civil conflict
Death(s) 11
Injuries 138
Arrested 2,150+

The 1968 Chicago riots, in the U.S., were sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was shot while standing on the balcony of his room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968 at 6:01 pm. Violence and chaos followed, with blacks flooding out onto the streets of major cities. Soon riots began, primarily in black urban areas.[1] Over 100 major U.S. cities experienced disturbances, resulting in roughly $50 million in damages.

Rioters and police in Chicago, Illinois were particularly aggressive, and the damage was severe.[2] Of the 39 people who died, 34 were black. Chicago, Illinois, Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. experienced some of the worst riots. In Chicago, more than 48 hours of rioting left 11 Chicago citizens dead, 48 wounded by police gunfire, 90 policemen injured, and 2,150 people arrested.[3] Two miles of Lawndale on West Madison Street were left in a state of rubble.


On April 4, 1968, in Chicago, violence sparked on the West side of the city, and gradually expanded to consume a 28-block stretch of West Madison Street, with additional damage occurring on Roosevelt Road.[4] Lawndale and Austin neighborhoods on the West Side and the Woodlawn neighborhood on the South Side experienced the majority of the destruction and chaos.[5] The rioters broke windows, looted stores, and set buildings (both abandoned and occupied) on fire. Firefighters quickly flooded the neighborhood, and Chicago's off-duty firefighters were told to report for duty. There were 36 major fires reported between 4:00 pm and 10:00 pm alone. The next day, Mayor Richard J. Daley imposed a curfew on anyone under the age of 21, closed the streets to automobile traffic, and halted the sale of guns or ammunition.[4]

Approximately 10,500 police were sent in, and by April 6, more than 6,700 Illinois National Guard troops arrived in Chicago. President Lyndon B. Johnson also sent 5,000 U.S. army troops into the city. The General in charge declared that no one was allowed to have gatherings in the riot areas, and he authorized the use of tear gas. Mayor Richard J. Daley gave police the authority "to shoot to kill any arsonist or anyone with a Molotov cocktail in his hand ... and ... to shoot to maim or cripple anyone looting any stores in our city."[5]

The south side ghetto had escaped the major chaos mainly because the two large street gangs, the Blackstone Rangers and the East Side Disciples, cooperated to control their neighborhoods. Many gang members did not participate in the rioting, due in part to King's direct involvement with these groups in 1966.[2]

Investigation and aftereffects

Rumors swirled that the riots had been organized by Black Panther activists and on April 10, a Chicago Tribune editorial claimed that "Black Power groups" had been the driving force behind the violence through a "conspiracy to riot." No evidence was produced to support the argument that it was a planned riot. During the summer of 1968, Mayor Richard J. Daley appointed the Chicago Riot Study Committee. The committee was led by judges, business leaders, lawyers, and politicians, and staffed by volunteers from law offices. The Committee interviewed hundreds of black residents and white business owners in the area, as well as police officers, fire fighters, and local activists, but no evidence of a conspiracy was produced. The final Riot Study concluded, "Some of the rioters may have discussed specific acts of violence, but for the majority of blacks the riot was a spontaneous overflow of pent-up aggressions."[6] The Committee also concluded that the majority of first rioters were high school students who began taking their frustration out on white business owners. Once the riots started, however, witnesses said that the riots expanded and multiple adults joined the teenage rioters. No evidence was found that concluded anyone intentionally set fire to a black-owned business or residence.[6]

The riots resulted in over 125 fires and 210 buildings being damaged, totaling $10 million worth of damages.[4] Power lines and telephone lines all around the city were knocked out. In the first two days of rioting, police reported multiple civilian deaths but were unable to determine whether they were caused by the riots or other crimes. No official death toll was given for the riots, although published accounts say 9 to 11 people died as a result. Almost 300 people were arrested, and a thousand people were left homeless. The destruction was mostly on the west side. However, there was some damage in the south side ghetto and near the north side.

Following the riots, Chicago experienced a food shortage, and the city's needs were barely met by volunteers bringing food to the area. Results of the riots include the increase in pace of the area’s ongoing deindustrialization and public and private disinvestment. Bulldozers moved in to clean up after the rioters, leaving behind vacant lots, many of which remain today. No clashes of this magnitude have happened in the United States since 1968.[3]


  1. ^ Rosenberg, Jennifer. "Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.". Retrieved May 17, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Risen, Clay (2009). "April 5: 'There are no ghettos in Chicago'". A nation on fire : America in the wake of the King assassination. Hoboken, N.J.: John Wiley & Sons.  
  3. ^ a b "West Madison Street 1968". Associated Press. Retrieved May 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ a b c Freeman, Jo. "Riot in Chicago". The Death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Archived from the original on 14 May 2011. Retrieved 13 August 2012. 
  5. ^ a b Coates, James (19 December 2007). "Riots Following the Killing of Martin Luther King Jr.". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 25, 2011. 
  6. ^ a b Report of the Chicago Riot Study Committee to the Hon. Richard J. Daley. Chicago, IL. 1968. p. 72. 
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