The Watts Rebellion Of 1965
Introduction – Watts’s rebellion in 1965
The Watts rebellion is the worst Negroes riots and demonstration in the history of Los Angeles. The worst and destructive series of riots occurred in 1965 in the neighborhood of Watts, Los Angeles. The event occurred from the 11th to 17 August in 1965 where property worth over 30-100 million dollars was destroyed, and over 35 people lost their lives (Bart 1). According to the New York Times, over 1400 people were arrested while 600 people got serious injuries. The Negroes staged the riots in protest of extreme harassment of the black population in Los Angeles and other cities in the nation. According to the New York Times by (Bart 1), the riots became difficult to contain as Los Angeles police department were weighed down by the angry Negroes mob thereby prompting them to seek assistance from the California Amy National Guard. Before the Rodney King riots in 1992, the riot was recorded as the worst riot to be ever experienced in Los Angeles. This paper explores details about Watt’s rebellion the occurred in the year 1965. It covers its causes, effects, and mitigation initiatives.
Categorical analysis of Watts’s rebellion detailing the events from the initial spark to the withdrawal of troops and return of normalcy based on the current information.
Events and causes of the Watts riots
As noted in the New York Times by Merritt (1), various events led to the extreme nature of the riots witnessed in Los Angeles. The preceding events include the unfair treatment of the Negroes during the Voting Rights Act of 1965 formulation. The Negroes were intimidated and denied the opportunity to express their views and press for the Act’s passage to accord them voting rights. The way the Supreme Court addressed the clamor for civil rights of Negroes also offended them and made them feel desalinated (Chicago Tribune, 3). The ruling raised emotions and the Negroes nearly rioted in protest of the decision.
Other events include racial discrimination where they were denied access to quality education, health care, limited access to transportation, poverty and unemployment. The storm according to the New York Times exploded when a police officer mistreated a Negro motorist on the Wednesday night of 11th August 1965. Based on the prevailing facts, a highway patrol officer pulled Marquette Frye who was a 21-year-old African-American man for careless driving. After administering the sobriety test on Frye, the police arrested him and radio called other police officers to impound the vehicle. Frye’s brother, Ronald, who was in the backseat of the car, ran home and came back with their pregnant mother, Rena Price.
Upon reaching, Rena Price jumped on the police officer out of anger. In reaction, the backup officers pulled out their guns ready to shoot Frye, his brother and mother. The move angered the crowed comprising of several Negroes who had increased in numbers (Bart, 1). Eventually, the scene was turned into a combat zone between the police officers and the angry crowd. The eventful evening was the beginning of riots and unrest in the city for the next six days. Therefore, the riots were instigated by many factors and the unfair treatment of the young Negro driver was just a catalysts. The Negroes had held many issues of discriminatory nature hoping for solutions that were not coming fast. Therefore, they capitalized on the young man’s case to express their frustrations and hunger.
According to Chicago Tribune (3), President Johnson was accused of introducing policies that empowered the minority groups hence leading to such riots. One of the congress senators indicated the problem the nation was facing was because of President Johnson. The senator said he has “placated the minority groups and made them to believe that they can do anything and get away with it” (Chicago Tribune, 3). Another notable cause of the riots is the irresponsive decision of the Supreme Court and the infiltration of the civil rights movement by the Communists.
The withdrawal of the troops
The increased terror and unrest that was evident on a fateful night prompted the summoning of all black community leaders to discuss and come up with a solution for the matter the following day, on the 12th of August. Unfortunately, the meeting miserably failed. The failure was attributable to the divided opinion about the cause of the riot between the police department and the ruling class. The division of opinion was also evident between the agencies on how best the situation could be handled. The disagreement caused confusion while the police were getting overwhelmed progressively.
This was evident since the situation escalated to a point where the Los Angeles police department had to call for help from the California Army National Guard (Chicago Tribute by Seymour 1). On the next day, Friday 13th August, the riots had increased as more Negroes joined the rioting crowd to support their fellow black men. The riots had turned out to be racial than a human rights riot. Over 2300 guards from the California Army National Guard joined the Los Angeles police in restoring peace in the city. Their efforts were futile, and more guards had to be deployed to assist the police team (Broder 20). By Saturday night of August 14, the number of the guards assisting the Los Angeles police department had raised to 3900 (the learning network, 1).
The introduction of the California Army National Guard did not help much since the amicable approach they could jointly use in dealing with the situation effectively was not eminent. They had an option of using force and killing more rioters. In particular, they were instructed to use gas and bayonets on the rioters (Seymour 1). The first attempt left two Negroes dead and others injured. They also imposed curfew in Los Angeles to keep people away from the streets. However, the use of the gas, bayonet and deployment of curfew did not yield positive results. The more the killings were recorded the more the worsening of the situation. No progress was being made to calm the situation. Therefore, the troops withdrew from the scene due to the vicious fight by the Negroes and after realizing that killing them will not offer a solution. They also withdrew after failing to reach a common ground on how to deal with the situation by other agencies. The government especially President Johnson had a feeling that dialogue and the use of spiritual leaders form the best way to deal with the situation instead of force. Hence, the troops were withdrawn to pave way for fair negotiation and use of an acceptable approach to all parties.
The return of normalcy
The return of normalcy was evident in Los Angeles and other major cities after some initiatives to grant the Negroes their rights were being undertaken. The first factor is the democratic processes process that was introduced by President Johnson. The democratic processes led to the recognition of the Negroes and subsequent access to various amenities such as health centers as provided in the bill of rights (Merritt 1). The move also started to reduce or mitigate the discriminatory approach to appointments and provision of services. The welfare of the Negroes became a concern to the government and they were scheduled for quality education, allowed to access various social amenities (Broder 20). Economically, the government started empowering them to elevate them from the York of poverty that characterized their lifestyle. In particular, some of them were appointed into key positions including one who was appointed the head of police. He pushed for professionalized services by the police department to reduce cases of harassment and discrimination by the police.
This reform was very necessary especially after a major discrimination scandal called “the bloody Christmas of 1951.” The scandal had tarnished the image of the Los Angeles police department (New York Times by Merritt 1). Similarly, the clamor for being eligible voters was accepted after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was successfully passed. The Act allowed Negroes to register as voters and participate in the election process. As reported in the New York Times, many Negroes were pictured lining up to register as voters in diverse locations.
According to Turner (8), spiritual leaders contributed immensely in mitigating the riots. They were brought on board after the police and the state officials disagreed on how to deal with the situation. The government leaders called upon the church leaders in a bid to bring them on board to help in dealing with the situation. They agreed to deliver sermons relating to the riots the following day (New York Times by Turner, 8). Rev. Laurence Keene noted that the riots were a product of despair that should be mitigated using spiritual and non-spiritual approaches. Keen preached about unity and eradication of hatred among the communities in the nation. He noted that peace is the cornerstone for meaningful development. The calls of the church helped in transforming the perception and action of many individuals across the cultural divide.
It is imperative to conclude that social problem that the Negro community was facing had an impact to the riots. Similarly, it is true to say that, a communist group incited the riots. The Negroes were oppressed, discriminated and lived under very hard living conditions. This can be supported by the fact that majority of the black population ran away from social problems they were facing in the southern states to the Northwestern parts of the country. This made the Negro community feel alienated. As pressure grew within them, they felt a need to express their feeling to the white community. Therefore, when the incident occurred, the Negro community saw that as an opportunity to express their pain. Based on the above explanations, it can be concluded that the 1965-Watts riots were because of racial injustices to the black community in the United States.
Bart Peter. New Negro Riots Erupt on Coast; 3 Reported Shot. New York Times, Special Report New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 13, 1965; p. 1
Broder David. Yorty and Shriver Disagree on Riots. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 18, 1965; pg. 20
Merritt, Vernon. Hot Summer. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 15, 1965; p. 1
Seymour, Korman. Troops Are Told to Use Gas and Bayonets. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Aug 14, 1965; p. N1
Turner, Wallace. Experts Divided on Rioting Cause: Poverty and Lack of White Communications Are. New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 14, 1965; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times p. 8
Chicago Tribute. Thurmond Puts Blame for Riots at Johnson Door. Chicago Tribune (1963-Current file); Aug 15, 1965; p. 3.
The learning network. Aug. 11, 1965 | Riots in the Watts Section of Los Angeles. New York Times. New York Times Aug 2011. Web. 13th Nov. 2015.