On Thursday, April 4, 1968, The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, TN. On Sunday, April 7th in Wilmington, church leaders held a memorial and prayer service in Rodney Square. The following day, schools held additional morning and afternoon memorials. During the memorials, several groups of young people began marching down Market Street causing damage to several stores.
By nightfall, violence broke out in 'The Valley' section of the city. Vandalism, shooting and looting continued for many hours. Firebombings occurred at various locations. Government officials declared a state of emergency and ordered 10:30PM to 6:00AM curfew.
For the next several days, officials declared additional emergency orders including the turning off of electrical power in sections of the West Side as fires continued in homes and businesses. Reports of sniper's firing at emergency personal added to the horror. The National Guard was mobilized, sending 3,500 troops to the city who camped out in an area behind the PS DuPont High School. Tension continued as the schools reopened in late April.
By May 1st, the city curfew was lifted followed by New Castle County on May 14th. When the new school year began in September, reports of student beatings and racial intimidations occurred. It is believed that during this time, the exodus of the white students began.
It took the swearing-in on January 21, 1969 of Delaware's new governor, Russell W. Peterson, to withdraw the National Guard. Throughout the entire event, Governor Terry refused to remove the troops even after Wilmington's Mayor Babiarz's requests.