"I watched a crowd of people walk to the corner of 14th and Harvard (streets NW) to a liquor store, grab the iron gates that were on the front of the store and physically take those gates off. It seemed like the strength of years of frustration took those gates off," remembered Bob King, who was then a 26-year-old, part-time short order cook during the 1968 riots in Washington.
"I was standing right here in front of my house (less then a half-block from 14th and Harvard streets NW) and I saw them come up from 14th and U where the breaking and looting began," King, now a community leader, told a reporter.
"It's no question about the force of those people moving up the hill. They were masses of people, but without rhythm to the group or without coordination. It was like a live mass, like killer bees in a horror movie, and they were moving, charging and chanting, 'Burn this m---down, they killed King, we're going to kill the city.'"
Along 14th Street, from Thomas Circle to just above Park Road, was one of the places in the city where the furies of the 1968 riots exploded.
Rosemary Stoutamire, who lives on W Street NW, one block west of 14th Street, remembered the fights raging up and down the street between blacks and whites and between light and dark-skinned blacks.
"A white boy was driving a bread truck down W street in front of my apartment the first night of the riot, and the black kids stopped the truck, pulled him out and beat him unmercifully," she said. "One light-skinned black man came to my door and begged and forced his way inside. He was afraid to go out because he was light-colored."
The Rev. Ray Kemp, of Sts. Paul and Augustine Catholic Church at 14th and V streets NW, said that Stoutamire's son Darryl, who was then 17 years old, pleaded with him not to leave the rectory the night the riot first broke, and "baby sat" with him inside for several hours.
Darryl Stoutamire said even though Father Kemp, a white man, was well known in the community, Darryl felt he was not safe.
"I knew that everyone was in despair, and I told the father to go back," Stoutamire said. "At that time, black leaders in the community had stronger voices than church leaders, and the community had turned against everything the church had been preaching. It looked like a war zone. I imagined myself being in Vietnam. This part of the city seemed like a concentration camp."
"The neighborhood was deteriorating, businesses soon left, people were burned out and others moved away.It was all so unnecessary. We only hurt ourselves," Rosemary Stoutamire said.
Charles Smith, a jobless black man who said he was once an assistant manager at Ripley's clothing store on 14th Street, remembers the firebombing and looting of the clothing store. Ripley's has been replaced since by a public health clinic.
"Some businesses tried to come back, but later the stealing started all over again and insurance companies began canceling policies. Take a look around to see what effect it had on this area," he said. "They burned down six buildings (in a one-block area) and now there's only a clinic and a parking lot."
Not all the businesses affected in the riots were white owned. Jerry Reese, called the "field marshal" because of his stern, no-nonsense approach, was among several black businessmen who were also burned out.
"The riots left a vacuum so great that there are not enough blacks with experience to take over (the services that white businessmen provided) and get the community going," said Reese, owner of House of Jerry, a clothing store that he relocated at 14th and Monroe streets NW.
"The riots put a lot of people out of work," said John Green, 38, a divorced father of three children who said he has not had a steady job since 1969. "Three are a lot of people like me; people who, after the riots, never seemed to be able to get it together. I think quite a few people (who stand) on street corners blame the riots for not being able to get steady work. I don't ever give up, but a lot of people on the corner (of 14th and Monroe streets NW) have," he said.
A resident of the 14th Street corridor for more than 20 years, Green said he was standing on the corner of 14th and Kenyon streets, next to the since demolished Byrdland Club, when he saw groups of people advancing up 14th Street.
"I was uneasy, it was a strange feeling. I could not believe that Martin Luther King had been killed and at the same time I could not believe what they were doing," said Green, who said he joined those who looted a liquor store.
For some, those few days and nights shattered years of dreams like the glass shattered from storefront windows.
"In the years prior to the riots, there were lots of social groups - not all of them nonviolent - that were developing platforms for social change," said Sam Jordan, who, as a roving leader in 1968, served as Mayor Walter E. Washington's troubleshooter both then and now.
"Black people had become sensitized to what Dr. King was trying to do, to change society. In the black community there was frustration and heightened tensions caused by the insensitivity of the government at that time," Jordan said.
"The year for more blankets and beds for poor people got out of hand. In a situation of frustration, it only takes one or two individuals - they don't even have to be with the group - to be the spark that ignites the group," he said.
"The summer before the riots, police had lots of conflicts with black youths. There were no jobs and little for them to do," Jordan said."There were very hostile attitudes towards police, especially among people living in low-income areas."
"A lot of people don't realize how difficult it was to grow up black in Washington," said Bob King, now director of social planning for the 14th Street Project Area Committee, a community-based group formed to redevelop the riot-torn corridor.
"The evening the riots began, I was attending Armstrong night school, trying to get my high school diploma after years of job disappointments and frustration," he said.
He heard about the assassination of Dr. King while at school, but he discounted several classmates' predictions of violence.
"I took the bus home, and as the bus passed 14th and U streets, I saw the crowd that was forming. I got off the bus at 14th and Harvard, several blocks north of 14th and U streets and watched the crowd coming up the street from in front of my house," King said.
"I stayed up the whole night to guard my place, and I had to make a hell of a decision not to participate in the looting," King said. "Going back to night school had been a new beginning for me because I had (something) to prove myself and my family. I made a commitment to try to help others. April 4, 1968, is a big anniversary for Bob King personally," he said.
Not everyone who lives along the 14th Street corridor regrets the looting and the burning, although most people inverviewed said they did regret the consequences.
"I am a professional hustler, and it (the riots and looting) was an opportunity to get some money - I just took advantage of it," said the 6-foot-3, burly light-skinned black man whom community leaders call "the black Jesse James of the 14th Street corridor." He is well known in the community and liked for his generosity.
"In two days I made $50,000 hustling people who looted liquor stores. I made arrangements to buy and sell with all the people who got any kind of whiskey and vodka," said the man, who asked not to be identified.
"I regret what has happened (to the community)," he said, "but not my taking advantage of the situation. Things weren't catching so good at the time and I was looking for a job."
One looter, a 23-year-old man named Ron who was then 13, said he took food and clothing because he needed it."
"My parents were on public assistance at the time and I needed what I got. I didn't take TVs or anything like that because it didn't matter to me," he said.
"When I wore the clothes to school, my teacher told me how stupid it was to loot. I didn't realize it then, but but when you grow up and realize what you did, you feel sorry about it. The whole neighborhood suffered. Prices went up, and jobs were harder to find," said Ron, who now works in a new store on 14th Street - the same area where he once looted.
"I wish time could go back," he said. "I wish it all never started."