An earlier version of this incorrectly stated, Frank Rich's family has been in the clothing business in Washington since 1862. His family has been in the clothing business since 1869. The earlier version also incorrectly stated Frank Rich heard about the assassination on the radio. He heard about the assassination from the manager of his Chevy Chase store as he arrived at the store Thursday evening.
More Recollections of D.C. Riots Following King's Death
Washington still remembers the events of April 1968. The three-day outburst of rioting, rage and lawlessness that followed the death of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. changed the lives of thousands of residents and transformed the city in ways that continue to ripple across four decades.
For many residents, the '68 riots were a touchstone, a moment in their lives as compelling as Dec. 7, Nov. 22, Sept. 11. Their memories remain vivid, as we learned when more than 300 people responded to a Washington Post invitation to share their stories. Here are a few of those recollections, some recounted in interviews and some from letters and e-mail messages sent to The Post.
Larry Aaronson, 66
His dream was to be a crusading journalist, but with the draft board breathing down his neck in summer 1965, Larry Aaronson was finding it difficult to land a job, despite his newly minted master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. The Washington native applied for a teaching job, intending to stay in the classroom for a year or so before beginning his real career with the Washington Star or The Washington Post, maybe as an education reporter.
Aaronson taught that year -- and 40 more.
What he experienced in the aftermath of King's assassination radicalized him, he said recently from his home in Cambridge, Mass., where he taught for the bulk of his career. That "transformative moment" in the District, he recalled, convinced him that teaching was his life's mission.
Aaronson, teaching history and government at Cardozo High School in spring 1968, was watching a movie at the Dupont Theater on the night of the assassination. When he got home to his Euclid Street apartment across from Meridian Hill Park, his phone was ringing. Answering, he heard the frantic voice of one of his students, a young man who had recently become a Stokely Carmichael bodyguard and a Black Panther organizer.
"King was shot dead!" the student shouted.
"What king was shot dead?"
"Larry, Dr. King has been assassinated! People are rioting all over here! You can't hear the rioting? You're right in the middle of it!"
Aaronson hung up the phone and turned on the TV; the rioting, he learned, was roiling 14th Street a block from his apartment. He could smell the smoke.