Governor Claude Kirk during Tallahassee riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Governor Claude Kirk during Tallahassee riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Credit this photo: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory,
(please include photographer's name when noted).


  • Governor Claude Kirk during Tallahassee riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Image Number

  • C800000-114


  • 1968

Date Note

  • Photographed on April 4, 1968.

Series Title

General Note

  • Substantial numbers of Black students skipped school to attend memorial services for Dr. King on April 9. A solemn fifteen-block march past the state Capitol drew four hundred Black youths. Rev. Raleigh N. Gooden, pastor of St. Mary's Primitive Baptist Church, organized the walk 'to keep them guided in the right direction.'"
  • As is typical during times of unrest, rumors abounded. Thursday night a rumor spread that a white man had been shot but was rapidly disproved. Fear fueled an unfounded rumor that militant Blacks planned to attack white-owned stores downtown. Friday morning a white coach scuffled with a Black student at one-third Black Rickards High School. Exaggerating the non-disciplined confrontation into a racial fight, some students overreacted and called their parents to come pick them up. Frightened parents pulled hundreds of students out of school. The excited and restless students were allowed to leave with their parents.
  • Because of the continued rioting, FAMU President Gore closed down the university until April 15 on the instruction of Board of Regents Chancellor Robert C. Mautz; all dormitories were to be evacuated by 7:00 p.m. Friday, April 5. Also in response to the violence, Sheriff William P. Joyce closed all liquor stores Friday night; many reopened on Saturday though. Some sporting goods stores and other ammunition outlets either were being careful to who they sold ammunition or refused to sell any at all. Vandals and joy riders kept police busy on Saturday, but by Sunday, April 7, the town was quiet.
  • The violence continued into Friday. In the Frenchtown neighborhood across town, two furniture stores were firebombed, Home Furniture Store, 622 North Macomb Street and Waldo's Furniture Company, 624 West Fourth Avenue. One ignited firebomb of two tossed into a rear window of the Home Furniture Store was extinguished by the automatic sprinkler system. The fire department saved Waldo's. Near the FAMU campus the white-owned Econowash Launderette, 316 West Pershing Street, was broken into and demolished. After removing the front plate-glass window, the vandals used crowbars to destroy every washing machine.
  • By 10:00 p.m. Tallahassee police completed cordoning off the FAMU campus on all four sides. Around 10:00 p.m. a westward-bound group of Blacks, turned back from Wahnish Way by the police cordon, returned to the east entrance of the University. Snipers began shooting at police with light-caliber firearms. Ordered to withhold fire except to protect life, the police barricaded themselves behind their patrol cars and paddy wagon. Police shot out street lights to mask their position. To retaliate against snipers, police lobbed tear gas canisters toward the hill entrance to the university. Police were also attacked with arrows at one point in the night. The worst tragedy occurred when someone firebombed Crow's Grocery, 1902 Lake Bradford Road, where nineteen-year-old Travis E. Crow III (an upstairs resident) died from asphyxiation at 2:30 a.m.
  • When FAMU students heard the news of King's assassination their first reaction was sorrow, followed by anger and rage. Within hours, student protests escalated into rock and bottle throwing at passing cars, and small arms fire. The first reported casualty was a white youth with a bleeding ear whose car had been attacked by stones, bricks, and bottles thrown from the FAMU campus. Rioters firebombed Southern Mobile Home Brokers, 1804 South Monroe Street, burning two trailers at 9:00 p.m. Firemen were beaten back by bottles and bricks thrown by FAMU students until police arrived. The students dispersed but later rolled barrels into South Adams Street, and pelted passing cars. At 10:00 p.m. City Commissioner John A. Rudd was injured by shattering glass when the car in which he was a passenger with Mayor Gene Berkowitz was bombarded with bricks and soda bottles on Railroad Avenue near Gamble Street.
  • Tallahassee, the capital of the state, had a population of about 71,000 in 1968 of whom twenty-five per cent were Black. It is the home of two state universities, Florida State University (all white until 1962) and Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (historically Black). As was typical of many towns with a large Black population, an underlying racial prejudice fueled the current of distrust that flowed both ways between the races. Florida State University professor Dr. Jackson Lee Ice realized 'it was not so much the 'rednecks' or lower classes that kept the Blacks 'in their place' and denied them equal opportunities and rights but the well-meaning, soft-spoken upper and middle classes which made up the controlling power structure of Southern Culture.' Spearheaded by concerned FAMU students and activist Black church leaders, the long struggle for Black equality in Tallahassee began in 1956 with a seemingly innocuous action...
  • The King riots differed markedly from previous riots; there were no triggering police incidents, no stated purpose or goal, nor any demands. Willard A. Heaps analyzed the riots as originally a spontaneous outburst of grief and anger at King's death which turned into organized orgies of arson and thievery. Nationwide, the riots resulted in forty-six deaths, over seven thousand injuries, more than twenty thousand arrests, and over $67 million in damages. One of the cities struck by rioters, Tallahassee, Florida, reported that one person was killed and fourteen injured during the period April 5-7.
  • Foreground (L-R): Sheriff William P. "Bill" Joyce, Governor Kirk, and unidentified highway patrolman.
  • Accompanying note: "On April 4, 1968, James Earl Ray assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, in Memphis, Tennessee. In the ten days following this tragic event, riots erupted in over one hundred American cities. Up until this time, social scientists believed all rioting occurred in response to local events or dissatisfaction. This assassination proved that black awareness extended further than home boundaries. The rioting afterwards 'was the first time that [Black] collective disorder was set off in response to a single, politically significant national event.'

Physical Description

  • 1 photonegative - b&w - 35 mm.

Subject Term

Geographic Term

Personal Subject

Subject Corporate

Shelf Number

  • Shelf number: G01424.

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