Eleven years ago yesterday, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It is a sign of changing times that few choose to take public note of that moment today.
"It won't be mentioned in my class," said a Cardozo High government teacher. "I don't think that day should be played up. I mean, what good came of it?"
At the University of the District of Columbia, Cora Wilds, a political science professor, said, "My experience is that people focus more on when a person came in rather than how they went out. Frankly, I hadn't even thought about it."
With the exception of a few church services and private gatherings, the day passed quietly and without notice.
At this time in April 1968, Washington was a city under siege. The statistics: 11,000 troops guarding Washington; 12 persons killed and more than 1,000 wounded; thousands arrested and hundreds of buildings burned and devastated; damages in the tens of millions of dollars.
"The anger is sort of gone now," said Robert King, director of social planning for the 14th Street Project Area Committee. "I think [Martin Luther] King would be disappointed, especially disappointed at government and, honestly speaking, disappointed at what his people have done since his death."
"The frustration is inside people now, seething. They are punishing themselves, hanging on and waiting for relief. All of our leaders have gone into the bureaucracy. No one has been born out of the ranks of the people sinceh is death," King said.
Along 14th Street NW, where young men congregated between Pride Inc., once run by a then-radical activist named Marion Barry, and the Blue Angel, a hangout run by street toughs, there now is hardly anything worth mentioning.
The long-heralded rebirth of the riot-scarred 14th Street corridor has been "excruciatingly slow," King said. However, come 1983, a new Metro subway stop is scheduled to open near 14th and Park Road. By this June, ground-breading begins for a 117-unit housing complex for low-income, residents at 14th and Euclid streets.
In all, about 1,000 housing units are in the works along 14th Street from Thomas Circle up to Park Road. Most of the poor residents for whom this housing was planned 10 years ago are gone, some forced out of the city by speculators and condominium conversion, government officials say.
At a nameless carryout, "Ray Boy" and 'Slim," as they are called, waited yesterday afternoon for the van that would bring the illegal drugs that they would dispense throughout the impoverished area.
Further down the street, at a model train store, Lt. Michael Hartford, a city narcotics officer, pondered that day 11 years ago when he was stationed on foot at 14th and U streets, the heart of riot.
"I was eating "C" rations off the top of an army jeep," Hartford said. "I thought I had seen the end of those days during the war."
But it's different now, Harford said. "There's less out there. It's strange. Before the riots, I couldn't go one tour of duty without having a fight with somebody. It's a lot less violent, but there's so much more drugs now. Heroin is up. We've lost contact with a lot of good people, too."
From his office near 14th Street and Park Road NW, Robert King sees daily the aftermath of the riots. "People are in a deep sleep," he said. "They are exhausted. The politics of the day is negotiation, not confrontation. Negotiation is a long and wearisome process. Most are left out because of lack of education," he said.
King said that he and "the old warriors who still are around" planned to meet to "reminisce about from whence we came."
Mayor Marion Barry, the same man who once ran Pride, was the guest speaker yesterday at a luncheon in the dining room of the National Press Club. Referring to the auctioning off of one of his dashikis on Sunday at a fund-raiser for his church, Barry said, "They agreed to auction off my three piece dashiki, so I had to go find another one."
It was the only allusion he made to his militant past. He said nothing about the death of Dr. King of the riots.
When asked whether he still considered himself an activist, Barry said, "I'm more activist than ever before. Any big city mayor has to be an activist. Those words are bandied around." Barry said. "Activist, militant - who knows what all that means?"