By Rob Green
Director of Aquatics at St. Albans School for Boys
I was in the 9th grade at Benjamin Banneker Junior High School in Washington, D.C. when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Riots were breaking out one block away from my house, which was located at the intersection of 14th and U Street. I remember hearing Stokely Carmichael telling the crowds to burn the store fronts (run by white suburbanites) down, and so they did. I thought the world was coming to an end. I really thought it was going to be World War III. The National Guard troops barricaded the neighborhood, tear gas was thrown into the crowds and fires broke out. People were putting signs in their windows that said, “Soul Brothers Live Here,” in order to keep the looters out. Even white people were putting signs in their windows. In just a matter of hours, I saw my neighborhood burn down.
When I think back to what caused the residents of the 14th Street Corridor to react in the way they did, the only logical reason I can think of is economic disparity. Racism, in my opinion, is born out of economic disparity. Limited resources always create tension. Access to capital – a necessity for starting a business – needs to be available to everyone, not just a select few, in order for peace to exist among the masses. Racism is born when this access is given to only a chosen few. When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot, the black residents in the 14th Street Corridor turned on the shopkeepers, who were predominantly white, and they looted the shopkeepers in an act of revenge.