The 1968 Baltimore Race Riots in a New Light

OHMAR, an all-volunteer organization, is fortunate to have a new intern for the Fall 2020 semester! Michael Barnes joins us from Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ. One of his assignments, in keeping with OHMAR’s commitment to telling relevant stories that can help us make sense of the world we live in today, will be to research and author a series of blog posts for us. We hope you enjoy, and explore these pertinent projects in greater detail.  

The city of Baltimore, Maryland, is, like many cities, quite diverse. 

It has a thriving immigrant community. Over time, these immigrant groups have included people from Italy, Poland, Greece, and Jewish refugees running away from persecution. These European immigrants have brought much of their culture and traditions and helped shape Baltimore into what it is today.    

Baltimore also has a large African American population. In the aftermath of the US Civil War, freed African Americans started to move to Baltimore in greater and greater numbers for better economic opportunity and to escape the heavily segregated South. By the 1960s, African Americans represented a large portion of Baltimore’s population. 

There was often an uneasy divide between Black Baltimore and white Baltimore. When the Civil Rights Movement started to gain national attention in the 1960s, the two groups were further divided as Blacks wanted to desegregate systems in Baltimore while many whites wanted to maintain the status quo. 

In 1968, an explosive moment happened in Baltimore when a massive race riot broke out on April 5, in the aftermath of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. Six people were killed and over 500 people were injured. Large sections of the city were either destroyed or damaged. It would take almost a week before National Guard and Federal Troops brought order back to the city. The events in Baltimore, though devastating, were generally overshadowed on the national stage by larger race riots in places such as Detroit, Memphis, and Newark that same year. 

Despite the relatively lower profile of these events in Baltimore, a group of organizers gathered in the early 2000s to promote awareness of them, and, perhaps more importantly, learn from them. Their efforts started as a series of oral histories, listening events, and a conference known as Baltimore 68: Riots and Rebirth. Their work lives on as a website today. 

Baltimore 68 was established by members of the University of Baltimore and the community. The University’s archives provide source material, as do the oral history interviews conducted by the team (and by others over the years). These oral histories allolackw the members of the project to better understand the issues in Baltimore in 1968 and why it all still matters today. Many of these interviews, research files, pictures, and more are now available via the project website.    The team at Baltimore 68 have taken great steps so that this important moment will not become a footnote in American history. The events that took place in 1968 in Baltimore represent an explosive time in the United States in which its principles were put to the test. Baltimore, though, was far from an isolated incident as the country and the rest of the world were experiencing a time of great social and political upheaval. In many ways, history is now repeating itself in a way the organizers of Baltimore 68 might not have realized when they created this project. We are struggling with conversations about the high Black incarceration rates and police killings of African Americans. Only a few years ago, Baltimore again saw great civil unrest in 2015, in the aftermath of the killing of Freddie Gray by white officers. Great strides in racial progress have been made since 1968 but clearly we still have work to do. We must look to the past to understand how we might do better. The interviews in a way tell us the struggles these people were facing in 1960s Baltimore and how we should push for police, prison and overall the criminal justice reform that made Blacks in the United States feel marginalized by the system. To learn more about what the events of 1968 in Baltimore can teach us, visit their site at