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Ben’s Chili Bowl Will Honor MLK With a March and a Candlelight Vigil Wednesday

Ben’s stayed open during the 1968 riots and fed those in need.

Photograph by Flickr user Steve Snodgrass.

During the riots that followed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968, Ben’s Chili Bowl was given special permission to remain open. The U Street, Northwest, home of DC’s most famous half-smokes provided a place to rest and eat to anyone trying to keep the peace while much of the 14th Street Corridor was engulfed in flames.

On the anniversary of Dr. King’s death this Wednesday, Ben’s Chili Bowl plans to host a march and vigil in honor of the slain civil rights leader and in solidarity with movements like Black Lives Matter, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and groups advocating for LGBTQ rights. Mayor Muriel Bowser and other speakers are expected to attend the candlelight vigil that will start when the march reaches Ben’s around 7 PM.

Anyone from the community is invited to speak at the vigil, and Ben’s will host a poster-making session Tuesday at 4:30 to prepare for the march.

“This is literally for the people,” says Vida Ali, daughter-in-law of Ben’s owner, Virginia Ali. “There’s so much going on right now, and each group just wants to be heard, so we’re giving them that platform. It’s a good thing, because that’s how changes comes about.”

Virginia Ali is calling for all businesses in the surrounding area to place lighted electric candles in their windows on April 4 to show their support of the event. The march will start at 5:30 PM at the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Howard Place, Northwest, on Howard University’s campus, and will end at Ben’s Chili Bowl at 7:30 PM.

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Assistant Editor

Elliot joined Washingtonian in January 2018. An alum of Villanova University, he grew up in the Philadelphia area before earning a master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University. His work has also appeared in the Washington Post, TheAtlantic.com, and DCist.com, among others. He lives in Bloomingdale.