During and before WWII, Watts had a huge population boom. Thousands of Blacks came from the South looking for jobs and a better life. However, they found unemployment and despair.
The Watts Riots began on the evening of August 11, 1965. Near Watts, a Black resident flagged down a white officer and told him that a man had drove by recklessly. The white officer pulled over the car that he had been told about on 116th and Avalon, an area Southwest of Watts. The driver was Marquette Frye. He was driving with his brother, Ronald. According to the police, Marquette failed a sobriety test and the white officer told him he would be arrested for drunk driving and that his car would be towed. It was an extremely hot evening and many of the Black residents of the area were outside and watched as this occurred.
Marquette’s brother, Ronald, left the scene to get his mother at their house two blocks away. He went to get her so she could claim the car so that it would not be towed. Marquette and the police man began to argue as he was arrested. There was some shoving involved and about 75 people from the neighborhood gathered around to watch what was happening. Ronald came back with his mother. The police still had not brought Marquette under control. Ronald and his mother, according to the police, tried to protect Marquette from the police officer. By this time, about 300 people had surrounded the scene. The officer, with backup, arrested Marquette, Ronald, and their mother. The crowd was very upset at this point, and someone spit on one of the cops. The cop arrested this person as well, and the people were infuriated. This crowd of people started off the riots. They destroyed buildings and looted stores that night. The rioting quickly spread to Watts.
The next day, community leaders and the police met at Athens Park. Many community leaders encouraged people to be peaceful. Mrs. Frye, the mother of Marquette, also said that people should calm down. One teenager stepped to the microphone and told people that the rioting would not stop and that the rioters were going to invade the white parts of the city that night. The media and news stations reported this, but did not report on all of the peaceful speakers. As would be expected, the rioting continued. The National Guard was called in to help support the police.
On the third day of the riots, 103rd St. in Watts was burned to the ground. It was named by the residents there “Charcoal Alley.” This day also marked the spread of the riots to other parts of South Central, especially up Central Ave. Looting continued and snipers began to take out police and the National Guard. The police responded with brutal force, killing many. The rioting spread elsewhere. San Diego rioted for three days. There were riots in Pasadena, Pacoima, Monrovia, Long Beach, and Wilmington.
In the end, 34 people died. 118 people suffered gunshot wounds. Most people were killed by the LAPD and the National Guard. There was over $40 million in damages. After the riots, “white flight” occurred. Thousands of white residents in the areas around Watts, such as Compton, South Central, and Inglewood, left Los Angeles in fear. Many Black residents left Watts to these other areas.
The McCone Commission, a government study into the riots, found that people rioted because of unemployment, bad schools and education, and prior instances of police brutality. This is true, but the deeper reason for rioting was racism and the lack of power people had over their life.