The day James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., rioting broke out in several historically black neighborhoods in D.C. People were devastated, frustrated, and filled with confusion and rage. All of these emotions erupted into chaos for three days in April 1968. President Johnson deployed over 13,000 Federal troops, including 1,750 National Guard troops on April 5th. The military troops stayed in the city for several days after the riots ended on April 6th to discourage a second round of rioting.
Anyone who is familiar with US military equipment might become confused when looking at photographs documenting the riots in Washington, D.C. in 1968 because they might see a soldier outfitted as if it were 1943. The National Guard still used World War II equipment in 1968. Congress passed legislation (the Total Force Policy) in 1973 mandating equal outfitting and training for Federal and National Guard troops.
The newest temporary exhibit at the National Guard Memorial Museum explores the complex event of the D.C. riots and the National Guard’s role in them. Visitors are able to learn about the riots and the National Guardsmen who did their duty to protect the city and its citizens.
I became interested in this topic when I learned of the D.C. Guard uniform in the temporary exhibit, “You Say You Want a Revolution,” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England. Although the uniform is not from our collection, we did help facilitate its loan between one of our museum supporters and the V & A. I wanted to tell visitors about our exciting opportunity to work with the prestigious museum, and the more I researched the 1968 riots, the more interested I became in their impact on the city and the story of the guardsmen.
I also have a personal connection to the era as my paternal grandfather was a career guardsman from the 1940s through the 1980s and experienced the evolution of the National Guard before and after the passage of the Total Force Policy in 1973.
It has been my honor and delight to intern at the National Guard Memorial Museum for the past four months. When I am not designing or researching new exhibits, I enjoy exploring D.C.’s food culture, visiting Bei Bei and Catalina at the National Zoo, and helping direct lost tourists even if they stand on the left side of the escalator in front of me. I will graduate in May from The George Washington University with a M.A. in Museum Studies.
–Written by H. Glady, GWU, 2016