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Memories of the Race Riots

by Don Alhart

The violence began at night, but it did not happen overnight. What bubbled over on July 24 had been on the burner for years with the migration of African-Americans to our community.

"In 1945, there were only 5,000 African-Americans in the community and by 1960 it was up to 24,000. And by a special census, by 1964, it was 34,000 so you had a big surge in the non-white population," says Dr. Walter Cooper, a past president of NAACP.

A surge in the population, in a community that had not prepared for them.

"I think the community was aware, but I think one of the problems you had during that time period was that most people hadnt had that much open dialogue or communication with black people and it was interesting because many who thought they knew that the problem was, that wasnt the problem. The problem was adjusting to brand new situations," says Connie Mitchell, County Legislator for the 3rd ward.

Situations like adequate housing and jobs.

"I think the problem was the doors to housing never really opened and so that most blacks were confined to the 7th ward and the 3rd ward, and we were just all pushed together and regardless of who we were, we were just cramped together and I think that had a lot to do with it," says Mitchell.

"Well I think the community was ill-equipped to handle the large increase in the non-white population and instead of trying to provide community resources to ease the translation into community life, the position taken was to control the new arrivals," says Dr. Cooper.

And, as many believe, it was that control that finally sparked the violence of the summer of 1964.

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Washington Times