HU professor compares 1968 Baltimore riots to 2015

HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — A Hampton man, connected to Baltimore and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., told 10 On Your Side his unique perspective of the recent riots.

Professor Earl Caldwell was a New York Times reporter in the 1960’s and traveled across the country to tell the stories behind the urban riots that were taking place. He was right there in Memphis on the day Dr. King died, and he went to Baltimore shortly afterward, where violence had erupted as a result of the assassination.

“You can’t keep going down these same roads … something terrible is happening now, but so many pieces are in place for a catastrophic event,” Caldwell said. “And it always comes back to one or two things. Police brutality is a common line. Unemployment is another signature line. I believe it’s all of these things. It’s a big pot, and the brew that it’s cooking up is not good for this country.”

Back when he was travelling the country, he said the deeper issues, like troubled schools and poor housing, were what erupted in Baltimore in 1968. He’s now a professor at Hampton University, watching the same issues boil over again.

“You can see this new generation, and if you talk to them, they’re saying a lot of the same things that were said 50 years ago,” Caldwell said. “The riots in the 1960s kicked off with a white cop shooting a black kid. That’s a line that runs through.”

Just as the protests following Freddie Gray’s death started peacefully, the same was true then. But the time came when civil disobedience won out, and Caldwell said Baltimore is still paying the price today.

“People don’t understand that in the 1960’s, when King was advocating, they had school for marchers, school for those who would be protesters, to teach them the do’s and don’ts,” Caldwell said. “If you look at the 1960’s, every neighborhood burned down. Nobody came to build it back up. Businesses lost. You see a whole new generation come and question why there are no grocery stores. Well, you burned them down.”

The anger and frustration was seen, but people’s predicament remained the same. Caldwell said, when you have riots, they become the message, whether you intend it or not. So, he’s glad to see some of the violence cease, since Monday, as community leaders have really tried to get people refocused on what it is and who they are fighting for.

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