By James Wright, Special to the AFRO, [email protected]
The District of Columbia, like the rest of the nation, hosted several events to remember the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King was killed by an assassin on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tenn. Virginia Ali, the co-founder of the famous Ben Chili’s Bowl restaurant chain on U Street., N.W. remembers vividly that day a half century ago.
“I was at Ben’s Chili Bowl working,” Ali told a group of 40 people at the John A. Wilson Building as one of the speakers for a program “Reflection on 1968 in Washington, D.C. and the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” that was held on April 3 and was sponsored by the D.C. Council and Georgetown University. “Suddenly, someone rushed into the front door and said ‘Dr. King had been shot’. Of course, we didn’t believe him but someone later came in and said Dr. King had been killed.
“When we found out that Dr. King had died, everyone was in tears. I remember going outside and that’s when I noticed that someone was throwing a brick on 14th Street.”
The U Street corridor, specifically 14th Street, N.W. was one of the areas in the District where the disturbances took place on April 4 and a few days after. Former D.C. Council member Dr. Charlene Drew Jarvis, who was one of the speakers, remembers the day, too.
“I had just finished teaching a class at Howard University and went to 14th Street to pick up my children at nursery school,” Jarvis, who served on the council from 1979-2001, said. “I couldn’t park on 14th Street, which I thought was strange, so I parked on 16th Street. When I got to 14th Street, I asked a police officer why and he told me that Dr. King had been shot and people were out in the streets.
“I found out that the teachers had taken the children home and when I got to my house, the kids and I went on the third floor and watched the flames in the city.”
She said it is to the credit of then District Mayor Walter Washington that he ordered lawbreakers not to be shot.
Jarvis said it took 30 years for the U Street corridor to get the attention it needed from the District government and business communities to economically develop to what it is presently a booming restaurant and enterprise scene.
On April 4, District residents observed King’s assassination with a program at Shepherd Park in Ward 8, a march in Ward 1 and a ceremony at Georgetown University. Residents gathered at Shepherd Park, which is located at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. & Malcolm X Avenues., S.E., to observe the event with speakers such as D.C. Council member Trayon White (D-Ward 8), faith leaders and local entertainers.
A march from Howard University to Ben’s Chili Bowl in Ward 1 was held with the support of the restaurant. Ali told the AFRO why she supported the march.
“This is a peaceful march in memory of Dr. King,” she said.
Georgetown University held a ceremony in honor of King at its Dahlgren Chapel. Dr. Maurice Jackson, an associate professor of history at Georgetown, participated in the April 3 program at the Wilson Building and told the AFRO why the institution chose to remember King.
“Georgetown students were very involved in the city during the time of the King assassination,” Jackson said. “The law students helped process those who were arrested and the undergraduate prepared food and blankets for people affected by the disturbance. I have been pushing the university to do something about this.”