April 4: Angry Riots Rip Hartford After MLK Assassination

Today in 1968, the streets of Hartford, Connecticut exploded with anger following the assassination of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. Dozens of residents in Hartford’s North End took to the streets — most of them young, black men — expressing their frustration and anger by breaking storefront windows, overturning cars, looting shops, and setting white-owned businesses on fire. Police in riot gear responded with tear gas and round-the-clock patrols, as the unrest continued for well over a week.

A Hartford Courant photo of the aftermath of the 1968 riots in the North End of Hartford.

Racial tensions had been running high in Hartford for years, with street demonstrations and protests against issues like police brutality an almost annual occurrence during the 1960s. However, the brutal and sudden assassination of King, a popular national figure who preached the virtues of racial unity, nonviolence, and love, unleashed a powerful shock wave of enraged frustration in black urban neighborhoods all over the United States. In Hartford, like many other cities, the post-assassination riots that began on April 4, 1968 resulted in more property destruction, injuries, and regional anxiety than any previous civil rights unrest. Over nine days, 47 civilians and three police officers were injured, and the amount of property damage exceeded $4 million.

While Hartford escaped the extremely  large-scale violence that completely engulfed  cities like Chicago, Washington D.C., and Baltimore, the state’s capital city is still dealing with the aftermath of its own 1968 riots. Over 50 years later, the same neighborhoods that endured the brunt of the damage in 1968 are still struggling to revitalize their shuttered storefronts and homes. The riots exacerbated the mid-century trend of white, middle-class families and business owners fleeing urban Hartford for the low-crime suburban enclaves of West Hartford, Wethersfield, Glastonbury, and other nearby towns. This permanently altered the demography of the greater Hartford region. An angry reaction to a national tragedy left scars that have not yet fully healed, today in Connecticut history.

This 2011 Google Maps screenshot shows blight on Barbour Street, one of the most heavily-damaged neighborhoods during the 1968 Hartford riots.

CCTW1 PreOrder Quote 3.png

Further Reading

Jeffrey B. Cohen, “Anger After King’s Death Left Lasting Mark on Hartford’s North End,Hartford Courant via hartfordinfo.org

Cynthia Reik, “What Would Dr. King Want You To Do?” Connecticut Explored

Photo Gallery: The Late 1960s: Unrest in Hartford,Hartford Courant

Steve Thornton, “The Language of the Unheard: Racial Unrest in 20th Century Hartford,” connecticuthistory.org

History Challenge Jensen ad