When Baltimore burned 47 years ago

When Baltimore burned 47 years ago

wp-ROC-Editorial-40907-Baltimore-1968-page-001-580x539Posted by • May 1, 2015 • 10:08 am

This week was not the first time Rochester anxiously watched Baltimore engulfed in riots.  In April 1968—four years after our own turmoil—the assassination of Martin Luther King sparked a wave of protests and unrest, especially so in Baltimore.

Spinning my way through the microfilm at the Rundell Library—turning the page from an otherwise uneventful April 3rd to the dreadful next morning in Memphis—I entered a world unhinged, a numbing parade of vigils, burning cars, mourners and riot police.

On April 8th, the Democrat and Chronicle editors weighed in on the violence sweeping the nation, “Riots Hit Innocent the Hardest.” In many ways, the editorial was what I expected, (including the language of its times: “Negro,” “get whitey” and “gun talk”).

wp-ROC-Editorial-40907-EDITORIAL-448x580Giving the immediacy of events, the opinion focuses on the (televised) damage done to innocents, “good, decent, stable families” juxtaposed with “heartless, thrill-seeking looters.”  The NAACP’s call for non-violence is endorsed, cast implicitly against the militancy of Black Power. Deeper grievances are mentioned but not fully elaborated (given the moment, a topic for another day.)

What struck me—in this opinion piece, letters to the editor, and general news coverage during that week following the assassination—was the reticence to discuss comparisons between Baltimore April 1968 and Rochester July 1964.  Police Chief William Lombard—who played such a prominent role in 1964—wrote a letter praising the peaceful response of Rochesterians in which the events of that long, hot summer were noticeably absent.

In 1968 Rochester had not yet come to terms with both the trauma inflicted and the injustices revealed by 1964. Nor have we rightfully forgotten still. The April 28th Democrat and Chronicle, “Work to ensure Baltimore riots don’t happen here,” describes how social media discussions of the current situation in Baltimore consistently hearken back to 1964.

See  democratandchronicle.opinion/2015/04/28/work-ensure-baltimore-riots-happen/

I might have taken less notice of the fairly predictable 1968 editorial written by a white editorial board had I not read Reverend Marvin McMickle’s profound and eloquent essay “Riots leave lasting scars upon a community” (April 28th).

McMickle, an African-American man who has been there, explains how he lived through two riots in 1968 in Chicago (presumably King in April and the Democrat Convention in August) and how his ministry has taken him to cities “where the scars of urban riots can still be seen; Newark, New Jersey, Cleveland and now Rochester.” Using King’s phrase, “a riot is the language of the unheard.” McMickle helps us understand the frustration of black Baltimorians who have complained about excessive force by its police department for years.

But, more so, McMickle poignantly describes the tragic devastation inflicted in Baltimore: a CVS burned and looted that sold vital prescription drugs, destroyed liquor stores whose owners lived just above their shops, a ruined senior center that served the impoverished. As he says, “It is the rioters’ own communities that bear these scars.”

See democratandchronicle.opinion/guest-column/2015/04/28/riots-leave-lasting-scars-community/

Unfortunately, in 2015 what was inescapable in 1964 and 1968 all too often still holds: “Riots Hit Innocent the Hardest.”

also see (and print version below) democratandchronicle.guest-column/2015/05/02/going-back-time-reveals-familiar-scenes-sentiments/


About The Author


Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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