Martin Luther King Assassination Riots

Photographer: The Washington Post
Location taken: USA
Source: Flickr

Front page of The Washington Post on April 7, 1968, three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King

On April 4, 1968, the famed African-American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated as he stood on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. James Earl Ray was arrested and charged with the assassination, and died in prison in 1998.

Immediately after his death, angry riots exploded in more than 100 cities across the United States, with the worst violence occurring in cities such as Baltimore, Washington D.C., Chicago and Kansas City. The rioting became so bad that President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered the Army and National Guard deployed. In the end, more than 20,000 people were arrested and 43 people had died.

The riots revived the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which banned discrimination in the sale of housing on the basis of race, religion, nationality and, in a later provision, sex.

The riots of 1968 were not the first nor the last widespread rioting experienced in the USA. The previous year had seen outbreaks of riots all across the country in what was known as the ‘long, hot summer of 1967’, caused by longstanding racial tensions and the convulsions of the Civil Rights Movement. Those same tensions would reoccur – most notably wit the Rodney King Riots in Los Angeles in 1992 and the George Floyd protests in 2020.

  • 1968-04-04 Riots break out in over 100 cities in the United States following the assassination of African-American civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr
  • 1968-04-07 Riots continue in over 100 US cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.