In 1966, LIFE magazine revisited the site of the worst riots seen in America's history with a photo essay of these dapper fighters for equality.
The African-American community in Watts came to this boiling pointing in August 1965 after years of police discrimination, exclusion from high-paying jobs and residential segregation. Racially restrictive covenants kept 95 percent of Los Angeles real estate off-limits to black and Asian communities, severely restricting access to education and economic opportunities.
In the 1960s, the LAPD was especially known for its police brutality against Latino and black residents. The police chief, William Parker actually made a policy for officers to ‘establish dominance’ over young black and Latinos as a way of showing who was boss. Frequent beatings and wrongful arrests became the norm for the African American community until the night of August 11th, when, as significant racial violence between black and white gangs escalated, a young African American was pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence. When the driver’s family got involved, they were arrested too. As local residents gathered the situation intensified. The yelling escalated to hurled rocks and bricks at police. Twenty-nine people were arrested but by the following night Watts was in flames and the rioting commenced in earnest.
Rioters armed themselves and passionately shouted, “Burn baby burn” and “Long live Malcolm X.” Fires raged for four more days. A civil rights activist, Bayard Rustin wrote, “the whole point of the outbreak in Watts was that it marked the first major rebellion of Negroes against their own masochism and was carried on with the express purpose of asserting that they would no longer quietly submit to the deprivation of slum life.”
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