Any lamentation of sweeping demographic changes in D.C. will almost certainly make reference to the 1968 riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Those five days, during which U Street NW and H Street NE were reduced to rubble, are the locus of many a modern Washingtonian’s sense of their city’s history. They also completely overshadow another critical race riot in D.C.’s past. Salon Washington editor Jefferson Morley’s Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 unravels the aftermath of one night in August of that year when an 18-year-old slave, holding an ax, walked into the bedroom of his owner. Whites, fearing a possible slave rebellion, attacked free black residents’ homes, and focused their violence on former-slave-cum-restauranteur Beverly Snow, from whom the riot takes its name. Two resulting criminal trials were prosecuted by the city’s slavery-supporting district attorney, Francis Scott Key (yes, the author of our national anthem). A guest appearance by President Andrew Jackson certifies that 1835’s “Snow-Storm” was just as pivotal to the growth and development of Washington as the burnings that would devastate it 133 years later.
Morley discusses his book at 6 p.m. at Politics & Prose, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW. Free. politics-prose.com. (202) 364-1919.