Quantcast

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 45 Years Later

Stacy M. Brown | 4/3/2013, 10:04 a.m.

The sky was filled with smoke and flames quickly followed.

President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the deployment of more than 13,000 federal and National Guard troops to help local police restore order.

It was the largest deployment of troops in an American city since the Civil War.

"It seemed like the whole city was burning, there were people looting, it was devastating," Henderson recalled.

Mayor Walter E. Washington imposed a curfew, banned the sales of alcohol and guns and on April 5, solicited the help of the most popular black musician in the world, James Brown.

Brown had already helped to quiet rioters a day earlier in Boston where he called for calm during a concert at the Boston Garden. "The mayor said, 'Get me James Brown,'" said activist Al Sharpton, Brown's long-time friend.

"James Brown empathized with the hurt and the anger the community felt, but he told them not to terrorize, but to organize," said Sharpton, 58.

"Don't burn, give the kids a chance to learn, James told the people," Sharpton said. Brown told them to go home and be qualified and to be somebody, which is black power."

The "Say it Loud, I'm Black and I'm Proud," singer was later invited to the White House where he was praised for helping to calm blacks in the District.

"James Brown did come out here and help, I remember when they asked him to come," Henderson said. "It was a big deal with so much going on and he went out into the streets and saw the devastation himself."

King and Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME), are planning to mark the 45th anniversary of the civil rights leader's death with a march on the Lorraine Motel, where he died.

"It's time to rebuild the coalition of labor, civil rights and faith-based groups," said Saunders, 63. "We will be in Memphis to re-ignite Dr. King's Poor People's campaign," he said.

One day before King's death, he delivered a memorable speech in Memphis which, proved prophetic.

"I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land," King said.

The next day, he was shot to death.

"I was 10, living in the Brightwood section, right down the street from Walter Reed Hospital and we saw jeeps full of soldiers going up and down Sheridan Street," said Keith Allen of Northwest.

"My father gathered me and my brother to go get my mom who worked at Dorothy Queens Style-o-Rama as a beautician at 14th and Spring Road. Fourteenth Street was ablaze, filled with smoke. It was a day I'll never forget," said Allen, 55.

The riot taught hard lessons to everyone.

"I was living with my husband and baby and we could smell the smoke," said Northeast resident Maureen Nichols. "There were military vehicles driving up and down the street and several stores on 12th Street had their windows broken and were looted. When I walked down the street to talk with a neighbor, who was white and her husband (who was) a cop, she told me she was glad it happened," Nichols, 73, said.