Joseph L. Rauh Jr., the long-time civil rights lawyer, remembers walking along Washington's 14th Street at the height of the riots and thinking, after talking to some blacks, that the fires and destruction of property were not so much an expression of hatred of whites as outrage at the loss of a leader.
In fact, Rauh says today that he feels there was less hatred then than is being exhibited now in Chicago during the current mayoral campaign, where some whites have raised the specter of race in trying to defeat Rep. Harold Washington, the black Democratic nominee. Such a contrast with the District of Columbia 15 years ago has left Rauh perplexed.
"You're pulled in opposite directions," he said. "You see something like Chicago and it makes you sick." On the other hand, he added, many things point toward toward better relations.
"The immediate future is cloudy," Rauh said. "There are very deep-seated racial antagonisms. I had hoped we were long past a political race so obviously based on race. But I'm an optimist in the long run."
Still, Rauh believes that "there's a permanent depression for blacks in America, probably as bad 15 years ago as now. The problems are much harder today."
"It was easier to work on desegregation and discrimination than on the economic problems of today," he said. "They're so much more difficult. Blacks have gained a form of legal equality, but it's not turned into economic equality. Black political leaders cannot have a great effect on economic redistribution."