Baltimore '68

Baltimore '68: Riots and Rebirth in an American City

Jessica I. Elfenbein
Thomas L. Hollowak
Elizabeth M. Nix
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Baltimore '68
    Book Description:

    In 1968, Baltimore was home to a variety of ethnic, religious, and racial communities that, like those in other American cities, were confronting a quickly declining industrial base. In April of that year, disturbances broke the urban landscape along lines of race and class.

    This book offers chapters on events leading up to the turmoil, the riots, and the aftermath as well as four rigorously edited and annotated oral histories of members of the Baltimore community. The combination of new scholarship and first-person accounts provides a comprehensive case study of this period of civil unrest four decades later.

    This engaging, broad-based public history lays bare the diverse experiences of 1968 and their effects, emphasizing the role of specific human actions. By reflecting on the stories and analysis presented in this anthology, readers may feel empowered to pursue informed, responsible civic action of their own.

    Baltimore '68is the book component of a larger public history project, "Baltimore '68 Riots: Riots and Rebirth." The project's companion website ( ) offers many more oral histories plus photos, art, and links to archival sources. The book and the website together make up an invaluable teaching resource on cities, social unrest, and racial politics in the 1960s. The project was the corecipient of the 2009 Outstanding Public History Project Award from the National Council on Public History.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0663-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Howard F. Gillette Jr.

    It’s legitimate to ask why anyone would bother to open old wounds by revisiting the civic disorders that wracked our nation’s cities a generation ago. Although some physical signs remain of that turbulence, for the most part the areas affected have been reconstructed, those who witnessed or participated in those events have largely moved on with their lives, and the urban issues that animated the period have, if not receded, been relegated to the periphery of civic discourse. At least that might appear to be the case. in fact, the riots live on in different form, through the power of...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xix)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. PART I: APRIL 1968
    • 1 The Dream Deferred: The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Holy Week Uprisings of 1968
      (pp. 3-25)
      Peter B. Levy

      As the sun began to set on Saturday, April 6, 1968, Robert Bradby, a twenty-one-year-old black steelworker, was relaxing at his girlfriend’s house when a crowd of black men and women began to congregate about a mile away on Gay Street in East Baltimore. Two days earlier, Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, and the black communities in Washington, D.C., and Chicago had erupted, but Baltimore, in the words of government officials, remained calm.

      Concerned about the safety of his girlfriend’s children, Bradby set out to find them. After learning that the children were safe, Bradby...

    • 2 Jewell Chambers: Oral History
      (pp. 26-38)

      Jewell Chambers was a young reporter on the staff of theBaltimore Afro-Americannewspaper at the time of the 1968 riot. Assigned to cover “on the street stuff,” as she puts it, her interview recalls the carnivalesque quality of the riot, as well as some of its more destructive and frightening moments. Chambers also provides a thoughtful assessment of who rioted and why they did so and of the changes in Baltimore since 1968. Typical of oral history, her narrative demonstrates the interplay between the remembered past and the past as it actually happened. Chambers left the Afro in 1968,...

    • 3 Why Was There No Rioting in Cherry Hill?
      (pp. 39-48)
      John R. Breihan

      The Cherry Hill neighborhood on the south side of Baltimore was constructed in the 1940s and 1950s as a racially segregated “planned suburb” for African Americans. By the time of the rioting that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, Cherry Hill was home to fourteen thousand to forty thousand African Americans, 3 to 10 percent of Baltimore’s black population at the time.¹ Yet, aside from a small fire set in the Cherry Hill shopping Center two days before the real rioting began, the neighborhood remained calm during the dramatic events that gripped much of the...

    • 4 “White Man’s Lane”: Hollowing Out the Highway Ghetto in Baltimore
      (pp. 51-69)
      Emily Lieb

      “The coming of violence to Baltimore’s ghetto,” began the American Friends Service Committee’s “Report on Baltimore Civil Disorders, April 1968,” “was no surprise.” Baltimore’s African Americans were subject to the same abuses and indignities that had sparked riots in other American cities: in Baltimore, just as in Watts and Harlem and Newark and Louisville and Detroit, white children went to better schools than black children, played in cleaner parks and community centers, and rarely had to watch as police officers harassed their parents for no good reason. Many of Baltimore’s African Americans lived in overcrowded, fetid apartments in run-down neighborhoods...

    • 5 Spiro T. Agnew and the Burning of Baltimore
      (pp. 70-85)
      Alex Csicsek

      Around 5:00 P.M. on Saturday, April 6, 1968, a black teenager tossed a brick through a store window in East Baltimore, setting off a riot that consumed the city for days. When order was restored, 6 people were dead, 4,474 had been arrested, and over a thousand fires had swept through the city.¹ The riot served as a test for Maryland governor Spiro T. Agnew, who responded aggressively and mercilessly. Many interpreted the governor’s harsh response, particularly an infamous speech in which he blamed moderate black leaders for failing to stop the violence, as a shift from his reputed liberalism...

    • 6 Thomas Carney: Oral History
      (pp. 86-102)

      Thomas Carney, who currently works in public health and bioinformatics, was a freshman at the University of Maryland– Baltimore County and living with his family in southwest Baltimore at the time of the 1968 riots. His interview richly describes life in this white working-class neighborhood in mid-twentieth-century Baltimore and the impact of the riot and its aftermath, as well as the broader social changes of the 1960s, on the neighborhood. Carney is an especially thoughtful narrator: focusing on the riot as a moment that “changes you forever,” he carefully juxtaposes a description of his experiences coming of age in the...

    • 7 “Church People Work on the Integration Problem”: The Brethren’s Interracial Work in Baltimore, 1949–1972
      (pp. 103-121)
      Jessica I. Elfenbein

      While the 1950s and 1960s are not always remembered as the golden age of interracial and interfaith work in American urban history,¹ this chapter shows how the Church of the Brethren, a small, historically white, rural, and pacifist Protestant denomination, helped lead innovative interracial and faith-based work in Baltimore during those critical years. The Brethren undertook bold and progressive faith-based efforts in Baltimore. Their work from 1949 to 1972 provides a case study of the ways growing social movements, including Black Power, and the civil unrest that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968, affected urban,...

    • 8 Convergences and Divergences: The Civil Rights and Antiwar Movements—Baltimore, 1968
      (pp. 122-142)
      W. Edward Orser and Joby Taylor

      At the time of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., in April 1968, King represented the most notable example of an American social activist whose perspective on the social ills of America—indeed of the world—explicitly and vocally linked both civil rights and opposition to war. Exactly one year before his assassination, in a major speech before religious leaders at New York’s Riverside Church, King broke his relative silence on the Vietnam War by insisting that racial injustice, war, and poverty were inextricably linked. And on March 31, 1968, only a few days before he was killed, he...

    • 9 The Pats Family: Oral History
      (pp. 145-153)

      In 1968 Sidney and Ida Pats were resident owners of Downes Brothers Pharmacy, located in the 800 block of West North Avenue, an area hard hit by the Baltimore riot. When the Patses purchased the pharmacy in 1950, their neighbors and customers were primarily white; by 1968 most white residents had either died or moved away and, in a typical pattern of racial succession, African Americans had came to dominate the neighborhood. In this interview, Ida Pats and her daughters Sharon Pats Singer, who was sixteen at the time of the riot, and Betty Pats Katzenelson, who was thirteen, recall...

    • 10 How the 1968 Riots Stopped School Desegregation in Baltimore
      (pp. 154-179)
      Howell S. Baum

      The supreme Court rejected racially separate schools inBrown v. Board of Educationon may 17, 1954. The Baltimore school board quickly voted to end segregation and, with black support, adopted free choice as its strategy. Children would select their schools; integration would be voluntary. The policy moderately changed schools’ racial makeup. In the 1960s civil rights activity and growing skepticism about free choice led Baltimore to hire integrationist superintendents and consider more active desegregation methods. Thomas D’Alesandro III was elected mayor in 1967 on an integrationist platform. Then, in April 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr., was killed, rioting broke...

    • 11 Pivot in Perception: The Impact of the 1968 Riots on Three Baltimore Business Districts
      (pp. 180-207)
      Elizabeth M. Nix and Deborah R. Weiner

      The events of April 1968 are often used as shorthand in Baltimore City. Residents remember a Baltimore “before the riots,” in which the population was stable, race relations were better than in most cities, crime was low, and commercial life was thriving. They believe that “after the riots,” the city’s population declined rapidly, race relations deteriorated, crime skyrocketed, and businesses left for the suburbs. When the popular imagination assigns this major role to the riots, the city’s problems in 2010 of sixteen thousand vacant houses,¹ one of the highest murder rates in the nation, and a dearth of retail become...

    • 12 “Where We Live”: Greater Homewood Community Corporation, 1967–1976
      (pp. 208-225)
      Francesca Gamber

      When Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated on April 4, 1968, the scenes of civil disturbance that stretched from Washington, D.C., to Chicago to Detroit to Minneapolis were upsetting but not unfamiliar.¹ From Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963 to newark, new Jersey, in 1967, Americans were getting used to seeing these flare-ups in the street, whether in their own cities or on television. Even the federal government had taken on the task of analyzing why black uprisings in particular had become more frequent in 1966 and 1967 by convening a National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders. The Kerner Commission, as it...

    • 13 Planning for the People: The Early Years of Baltimore’s Neighborhood Design Center
      (pp. 226-245)
      Mary Potorti

      During the October 1968 national convention of the American institute of Architects (AiA), Whitney Young, Jr., executive director of the National Urban League, chastised his audience of some four thousand architects for their “thunderous silence and . . . complete irrelevance.” He insisted, “ you share the responsibility for the mess we are in, in terms of the white noose around the central city. We didn’t just suddenly get in this situation.It was carefully planned.”¹ Complicit in urban abandonment by designing to the whims of white contractors and influential citizen lobbies, the nation’s architects had, in young’s mind, willfully...

    • 14 Robert Birt: Oral History
      (pp. 246-258)

      Robert Birt was fifteen years old at the time of the 1968 riot and living with his mother and sister in the Latrobe Homes public housing project in the heart of the East Baltimore riot area. Birt went on to become a professor of philosophy and a member of the faculty of Bowie State University in Maryland. Here he gives a close-up view of the riots and assesses the long-term impact of King’s assassination and the subsequent rioting on his own personal philosophy, as well as on Baltimore as a whole.

      Nyasha Chikowore and Maria Paoletti, students at the University...

  9. Epilogue: History and Memory: Why It Matters That We Remember
    (pp. 259-264)
    Clement Alexander Price

    I am delighted to contribute to this important volume, generated by new and old colleagues and friends who have made such a uniquely Baltimore contribution to historical literacy and civic culture through their efforts.

    This anthology, and indeed the series of initiatives that together comprise Baltimore ’68: Riots and Rebirth, at once an example of public intellectual work and civic engagement, was easier imagined than accomplished. Such public assemblies and the lasting scholarship they generate require a great deal of planning, even as the customary academic and civic duties of the planners go forward.

    Funding, always a challenge, is hard...

  10. Contributors
    (pp. 265-268)
  11. Index
    (pp. 269-272)