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Watts Riots


WATTS RIOTS. During the summer of 1965, rioting broke out in Watts, an African American section of Los Angeles. By 1965 the successes of nonviolent protests seemed irrelevant to many African Americans segregated and mired in poverty and despair in urban ghettoes. Militancy increased, especially in Watts in south central Los Angeles, home to more than 250,000 African Americans. A not-so-routine traffic stop signaled the demise of the era of nonviolence.

On 11 August 1965 spectators accustomed to seeing black drivers pulled over by white police officers charged the officers with racism and brutality. Some simply yelled. Others hurled rocks, bricks, whatever they could find at the outnumbered police. Angry mobs assaulted white motorists, shattered store windows, and looted shops throughout the night. When dawn brought tranquility, police mistakenly declared that order had been restored. But that night Watts was in flames. Rioters armed themselves and passionately shouted, "Burn baby burn" and "Long live Malcolm X." Fires raged for four more days. Signs reading "Negro Owned" or "Owned by a Brother" protected

some black businesses. Looting, violence, and bloodshed intensified, as rioters attacked whites, fought police, and shot at firefighters. Mobs repeatedly attacked reporters, and snipers aimed their rifles at members of the largely white press. Facing fewer obstacles, black reporters covered the story for major media outlets.

Only after the National Guard sent 14,000 soldiers to assist the 1,500 police officers did peace return to Watts. The official death toll reached 34, and 1,000 people suffered injuries. Police counted nearly 4,000 arrests. Some 30,000 rioters supported by 60,000 approving spectators caused more than $35 million in property damage. News of Watts unleashed a series of riots and racial disturbances in other American cities.


Horne, Gerald. Fire This Time: The Watts Uprising and the 1960s. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995.

Sears, David O., and John B. McConahay. The Politics of Violence: The New Urban Blacks and the Watts Riots. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981.

Paul J.Wilson

See alsoCivil Rights Movement ; Los Angeles ; Riots, Urban .

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