Governor Spiro Agnew

Streets of Fire: Governor Spiro Agnew 
and the Baltimore City Riots, April 1968

Maryland State Archives
350 Rowe Boulevard
Annapolis, MD 21401

Phone: (410) 260-6400
Internet: mdsa.net
e-mail: archives@mdsa.net

Introduction

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was fatally shot by James Earl Ray on his motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee.  The leader of the Civil Rights Movement had been killed.  Many people in the United States, both black and white, could not believe the tragic news when they heard it.  Soon the disbelief and shock would turn to confusion and chaos in the streets of urban America.

The slaying of King led to turbulent and racial unrest in the United States in the weeks immediately following the assassination. There was rioting in more than 130 cities in the U.S. At least 46 lives were claimed by the riots throughout the United States. Baltimore was one of the cities most affected by the riots. The violent uprisings occurred especially in the larger urban areas that had a high African-American population.  Such chaos erupted on the streets of Baltimore in April 1968.  From Saturday, April 6th to Tuesday, April 9th, there was rampant rioting and looting.  Many buildings and structures were also burned, as the streets of inner city Baltimore became engulfed in flames.

The Governor of Maryland in 1968 was Spiro Agnew (1918-1996), and Agnew's role in the Baltimore City Riots was by no means inconsequential.   Agnew was a child of Greek immigrant parents in Baltimore City in 1918.  After majoring in chemistry at Johns Hopkins University, Agnew was drafted and won the Bronze Star for his service in the European theater of World War II.  He returned home from the war and attended the University of Baltimore Law School and would pass the Maryland bar in 1949, before serving in the Korean War as well.  Agnew joined the Republican Party in 1947 and became a popular politician due to his support of civil rights and to a progressive record that appealed to moderates in both the Democratic and Republican parties. In 1966, Agnew was nominated for Governor by his party, after a successful term as County Executive from 1962 to 1966.  Agnew won the gubernatorial race decisively.

However, Agnew's initial appeal to the African-American community would severely change in April 1968. Governor Agnew had already faced his share of racial unrest in the Cambridge, MD riots of 1967 on the Eastern Shore.  Agnew had blamed SNCC chairman H. Rap Brown for inciting the violence with speeches and rhetoric that Agnew equated with as a call to arms. This time though, the riots occurred in Baltimore, the state's largest city and pivotal economic center.  The city also was home to a large African American population. The death of King elevated racial tensions in a city that was already facing such racial and overall civil tension due to the civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests.  Agnew offered sincere sympathetic words in comments about Dr. King on April 4, 1968. Yet, these words could not stop the raucous that was to begin soon thereafter.

Looting and fires became a major concern as the riots erupted. There was a great need for order and security that the Baltimore City Police, by themselves, could not provide. With riots raging in Baltimore City, Agnew sent out the National Guard on April 6 to help quell the riots and restore peace to the city, particularly in West Baltimore where the rioting was most heavy and damaging.  A curfew was also established for all city residents as well as a restriction on overall travel to and from the city.  By April 10, the riots had seemingly been extinguished,  The clean-up of the city would be great and the overall effects of the riot had an enormous impact on city life and its residents for decades to come, especially in those areas where the rioting was at its zenith.

Agnew invited Black civic and religious leaders to a meeting to discuss the riots and civil rights in general. Yet the meeting failed, as Agnew could not withhold his contempt for militant leaders. Agnew called these leaders “Circuit riding, Hanoi visiting, caterwauling, riot inciting, burn America down type of leaders”. Those leaders in attendance walked out of the meeting before Agnew had finished his talk. Agnew gained  support among people who felt that there were too many concessions and pardons made to looters and arsonists during the riots. Liberal critics felt Agnew had alienated the African-American community that had turned out for him at the voting booths just two years before. 

Finally, the career of Spiro Agnew would go on to greater political heights as well as dispiriting lows.  Agnew was elected the Vice-Resident of the United States under Richard Nixon in 1968, and the duo was re-elected to a second term in 1972. However, in 1973-in the midst of the Watergate investigation-Agnew agreed to resign the position instead of facing criminal charges, when it became quite evident that he had taken bribes as Governor of Maryland and had also evaded paying his taxes.

(Parts of this summary were abstracted from Junto Society: Vice Presidents)

National History Standards

Materials compiled in this document can be used by educators to fulfill the following National History Standards for Grades 5-12:

Era 10: Contemporary United States (1968 to the present)

STANDARD 2: Economic, social, and cultural developments in contemporary United States 

Standard 2D:The student understands contemporary American culture. 

Standard 2E: Evaluate the continuing grievances of racial and ethnic minorities and their
recurrent reference to the nation’s charter documents. [Explain historical continuity and change]

7-12: Evaluate the continuing grievances of racial and ethnic minorities and their recurrent
reference to the nation’s charter documents. [Explain historical continuity and change] 

Primary Resources

  1. TITLE:  Riot Control Formation, Anne Arundel County Police
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  26 April, 1968
    NOTES:
    The photograph is a print made from an original negative. The riot control formation shown in this photograph reveals how county police were ready to deal with the heightened racial tensions in Maryland in April of 1968.
    SOURCE:
    Anne Arundel County Police Department Photograph Collection, MSA SC 2169
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  2. TITLE:  Comment on the Killing of Dr. Martin Luther King, April 4, 1968
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    AUTHOR: Spiro T. Agnew
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 753
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  3. TITLE:  News Release and Statement State Flag at Half Mast, April 5, 1968
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 754
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  4. TITLE:  Address to Citizens of Maryland on Burning and Looting, April 7, 1968
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    AUTHOR: Spiro T. Agnew
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 755-756
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  5. TITLE:  Statement on Control of Looting in Baltimore April 8, 1968
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    AUTHOR: Spiro T. Agnew
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 757
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  6. TITLE:  Statement at Conference with Civil Rights Leaders and Community Leaders State Office Building, Baltimore April 11, 1968
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    AUTHOR: Spiro T. Agnew
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 758-763
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  7. TITLE:  News Release and Statement Complimenting Military and Civilian Units in Handling Baltimore Disorder, April 13, 1968
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 763
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969

    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  8. TITLE:  News Conference April 18, 1963
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    AUTHOR: Spiro T. Agnew
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 766-775
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives
    NOTES: This news conference contains questions from reporters in attendance (and Agnew's answers) as well as Governor Agnew's Statement.  

  9. TITLE:  News Release on Action to Meet Critical Problems Associated with Riots, April 21, 1968
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 775-777
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  10. TITLE:  News Release on Emergency Assistance To Victims of Civil Disorders, April 23, 1968
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1975
    MEDIUM: Archives Of Maryland Online, Volume 83, p. 777-778
    SOURCE:  Addresses and State Papers of Spiro T. Agnew Governor of Maryland
    1967-1969
    EDITOR: Franklin L. Burdette
    REPOSITORY: Maryland State Archives 

  11. TITLE:   "Guard Called Out In Baltimore Riot; Three Killed; U.S. Troops Sent To Chicago, bolstered in D.C."
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 7 April,1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. 1
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852 

  12. TITLE:  "City Curfew Imposed; Agnew Sends Troops As Unrest Spreads"
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED: 7 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p.1 & 10
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852 

  13. TITLE:  "In Baltimore"
    DATE CREATED/PUBLISHED:  7 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:   Baltimore Sun, p. 6
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852
    NOTES: An editorial about the riots in Baltimore of the previous day and night.  

  14. TITLE:  "Agnew Wires Johnson; Insurrection Spills to Slums on Westside"
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  8 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. 1 & A7
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852 

  15. TITLE:  "Efficient, Weary Guardsmen unable to Prevent Looting"
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  8 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. 1 & A9
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852 

  16. TITLE:  "Federal Force Rises to 4900..."
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:   9 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. 1 & A9
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852 

  17. TITLE:  "Strict Curbs Put On Travel in City"
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  9 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. B22
    REPOSITORY:   Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852 

  18. TITLE:  "Negro Peace Meeting Dispersed by Troops"
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  10 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    AUTHOR: Edward G. Pickett
    SOURCE: Baltimore Sun, p. A9
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852 

  19. TITLE:  "After the Cleanup"
    CREATED/PUBLISHED: 11 April, 1968 
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. A14
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852
    NOTES: Editorial 

  20. TITLE:  "No, Governor"
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  12 April, 1968
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. A10
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852
    NOTES: Editorial 

  21. TITLE:  "Governor's Job"
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:   13 April, 1968
    AUTHOR: John Henry Lewis, Jr.
    MEDIUM: Newspaper
    SOURCE:  Baltimore Sun, p. 6
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives, MSA SC 2852
    NOTES: A Letter to the Editor 

  22. TITLE: Spiro T. Agnew, b. 1918: Fifty-fifth Governor, 1967-1969 (Republican)
    CREATED/PUBLISHED:  1972.
    MEDIUM: Portrait
    ARTIST: Robert Tollast
    SOURCE:  Exhibit of Governors' Portraits in the Governor's Reception Room, Maryland State House, MSA SC 1545-1091
    REPOSITORY:  Maryland State Archives

Additional Media Resources

Archives of Maryland (Biographical Series). Spiro T. Agnew (1918-1996), MSA SC 3520-1486
Governor of Maryland, 1967-1969, Vice President of the U.S., 1969-1973 (Republican).

Additional Instructional Resources

Resources on Incorporating Primary Sources and Historic Sites in Classroom Instruction

Documents for the Classroom: Is Baltimore Burning?

Secondary Resources

Albright, Joseph. What makes Spiro run; the life and times of Spiro Agnew. New York, 1972.

Clayborne, Carson and Tom Hamburger.  "The Cambridge Convergence: How a night in Maryland 30 Years Ago Changed the Nation's Course of Racial Politics" Minneapolis Star Tribune, 28 July 1997.

Cummings, Elijah.  "Thirty Years After the Riots", Afro-American 11 April,1998.

Klee,Gerald D.  M.D. "Riots and Mental Illness" Maryland Psychiatrist, Spring/Summer 1998, Vol. 25 No. 1.

Knopf, Terry Ann. "Race, Riots, and Reporting"Journal of Black Studies, Vol. 4, No. 3. (Mar., 1974), pp. 303-327.

O'Reilly,Kenneth. "The FBI and the Politics of the Riots, 1964-1968". The Journal of American History, Vol. 75, No. 1. (Jun., 1988), pp. 91-114.

"Spiro the Tyro". Time Magazine. 20 September, 1968, pgs. 21, 24-25.

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Associated Heritage and Preservation Organizations

Great Blacks in Wax Museum
1601-03 E. North Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21213
(410) 563-6416

Credits

Teaching American History in Maryland is a collaborative partnership of the Maryland State Archives and the Center for History Education (CHE), University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC), and the following sponsoring school systems: Anne Arundel County Public Schools, Baltimore City Public School System, Baltimore County Public Schools, and Howard County Public Schools.

Other program partners include the Martha Ross Center for Oral History, Maryland Historical Society, State Library Resource Center/Enoch Pratt Free Library, with assistance from the National Archives and Records Administration and the Library of Congress. The program is funded through grants from the U.S. Department of Education.

This document packet was researched and developed by Michael T. Walsh.

An Archives of Maryland Online Publication
© Copyright, Maryland State Archives, June 23, 2004