Following Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1968 assassination, rioting broke out in many urban areas, including Washington, D.C. Law and order broke down. Extensive looting, burning and destruction occurred for several days near Children’s National Hospital. Police did not initially attempt to restore order. Looters destroyed a delicatessen across the street and burned a nearby warehouse. Acts of violence were many.
Children’s National occupied a block, bounded by 13th, V, 12th and W Streets in the midst of what was like a war zone. It was full of sick children. Staff came from all around the metropolitan area. The hospital had been in place 98 years and had an unbroken record of service to local families, many of whom had no doctor and walked to the emergency room and clinics.
In the midst of the riots, there was not a single act of violence directed at the hospital — no broken windows, graffiti, thefts, fires set or attacks on personnel. If a doctor or nurse was stopped by a crowd and said they were going to Children’s National, they were let through. The hospital was not protected by police or guards. It was protected by the love and trust built by a century of service. It was too precious to be damaged, even in the midst of crazy violence and unfocused anger.
(adapted from “Recollections of Children's National Hospital 1963-2013,” by Dr. Gordon Avery)
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