On Election Night 2008, a jangling, inter-ethnic mob in Washington, D.C. toasted Barack Obama’s presidential victory, stopping traffic at 14th and U streets—the same crossroads where, 40 years earlier, in April, Bobby Kennedy had signed autographs at a campaign rally, and where Stokely Carmichael and other members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee had crouched, listening to the news spool over the radio: King is dead. The week that followed brought some of the worst rioting that American cities had ever seen. Washington—where on April 5, 1968, some 200 fires raged—led the way; in Chicago, in Baltimore, in Raleigh, N.C., in Pittsburgh, in Hartford, Conn., the acts of thousands of anonymous mourners, thugs and opportunists eclipsed the spectacle of the 1965 Watts riots and sent white Americans scurrying for the hills—like the Israelites, not to return for 40 years. Barack Hussein Obama has taken Martin Luther King Jr.’s 45-year-old “arc of history” and bent it sharply toward justice. It seems an apt time for a fresh look backward. In a new book, A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination, Clay Risen examines the days between April 4 and 11, 1968—an often ignored history—ruled by grief… Read full this story
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