The Cardozo neighborhood fell to flames and fury immediately after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Neighborhood children did not need newscasts to see Washington burn, merely a glance out their windows or a peek onto what had been the bustling shopping district of 14th Street NW.
That year, the D.C. public schools had initiated The Innovation Team, a group of 15 teachers chosen to foster morale, energy and a sense of purpose in their colleagues.
At the urging of The Innovation Team, children in Cardozo neighborhood schools used pencils and crayons to convey their impressions and pose their questions about the chaos that consumed the capital. A compilation, "Children of Cardozo . . . Tell It Like It Is," was published that year by the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass.
"Children witnessed the rioting, and the experience was rather devastating. We just couldn't leave it alone," said Anne W. Pitts, an Innovation teacher at the time. "This was a catharsis, to get it out of the system."
None of the young contributors are named in the book; they are identified only as children of a neighborhood annihilated. Here, along with Washington Post reports on the riots of 1968, are a few of the poignant, ironic and insightful accounts of the children of Cardozo.
There was an eerie holiday mood to this afternoon binge of stealing. The Post, April 6, 1968 On fourteen street I saw burnt up stores and I thought it was an awful thing to do. I saw a house burned down. I felt sad. The stores in my neighborhood should have been burned because the prices were to hi.
Hundreds of worshippers from the Episcopal Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation, bearing palm fronds and flowering branches, marched down five blocks of fire-ruined 14th Street yesterday in an eerie updating of ancient Palm Sunday rituals.
The marchers, Negro and white, sang stanza after stanza of "We Shall Overcome" as children of the congregation distributed palm branches to bystanders and to helmeted soldiers stationed every few feet along the curb. The Post, April 8, 1968 The soldiers on my street were walking up and down across the street and they were guarding school and have been guarding our homes and they we colored and sense they have be there I have been giving them food and something to drink. The troopes came because the rude and inpolite people was burning and eating so bad.
The city was a study of ironies. At 1 p.m. Gov. Ronald Reagan of California, responding to a charming, witty introduction at a Women's National Press Club luncheon, joked about movie stars and governors and had the audience in the Hilton laughing.
He was 20 minutes into his speech before he felt it necessary to comment on the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. The Post, April 6, 1968 When I heard 14th St. was on fire I ran home as fast as I could and boy, was it fast.
Tass, the Soviet news agency, carried a brief story under a Memphis dateline declaring Dr. King had been made the victim of "racists" shortly before he was to lead a protest march on Washington "against the dirty war in Vietnam." Moscow Radio said "America is on the threshold of a colossal explosion of social and racial indignation." The Post, April 6, 1968 Right now I want to be American, not a black man and not a white man, but a American boy. To do the right things . . . . To have a wife and have a family a house with a big yard for my children. To change the war between races so there will not be a black man and a white man but an American man. I feel Negroes are using Martin Luther King's death as an excuse for looting and rioting and that it is no way to repay Dr. King for what he has done. I feel relationships between white and Negro will remain the same or worsen.
A clothing store at 14th and Harvard was aflame. The fire spread to a restaurant next door that vainly showed a "Soul Brother" sign, a symbol used yesterday by many merchants to show black ownership and plea for mercy. The Post, April 6, 1968 A sign in a window said, "Please don't put us out of work, we are soul brothers." If you were a rioter what would you do? I would not touch that person's work or break their window. If I were a white person this week-end I would put tar all over me or go to a place and hide. I don't think the white people in Washington, D.C. should be faulted for what happen in Memphis. I say that we are not hurting the white, we are hurting ourselves . . . .
As the relative calm continued, city officials shifted much of their attention from combatting disorder to trying to meet the massive human needs created by the four-day rampage of looting and burning. The Post, April 9, 1968 The people that set the fires are doing nothing but killing people, and the people need food to live on, but these boys keep up this nonsense. How long will the churches furnish us food?
About 200 students gathered, meanwhile, in the main quadrangle of Howard University . . . . A girl student spoke out: "Martin Luther King compromised his life away. He had to avoid bloodshed. If I'm nonviolent, I'll die. If I'm violent, I'll still die, but I'll take a honky with me." The Post, April 6, 1968 Wed., April 9, 1968 was his funeral and it was the largest and the longest one in Ancient History. Things aren't the same without him. Stores and houses are being burnt and torn down. But Matin Luther King didn't want violence he wanted peace. He wanted Black and White together, he wanted little black and white children to join hands and play ring around the roses. He wanted Black and White to march to heaven together.