On Aug. 11, 1965, deadly rioting and looting broke out in the predominantly black Watts section of Los Angeles. Officials called it the worst racial incident in the city’s history.
The corner of Imperial and Avalon in the Watts section, the center of the rioting, is a typical Los Angeles intersection: with gas stations, Taco stands and small shops.
It was shortly before 8 o’clock when a white Californian Highway Patrol officer stopped a Negro motorist on suspicion of drunken driving.
The suspect, Marquette Frye, 21 years old, was with his brother Ronald.
Some 25 persons were watching the incident when their mother, Mrs. Rena Frye, arrived on the scene and began berating her son, who in turn berated the police.
The crowd grew, new police units arrived and the rock-throwing began. By 10 P.M. crowds were stoning passing city buses. Over 80 police officers rushed to the scene and sealed off a 16-block area in an effort to contain the violence.
The rioting took place only a little over a mile from the Watts towers, three 100-foot high-stacks of bottles and metal scrap created by the late Simon Rodia, an eccentrist Italian tile-setter.
The Watts neighborhood, despite the low income of most of its residents, nonetheless retains a pleasantly suburban aura.
The streets are generally clean and tree-lined. Some of the single-family homes are in decay but most are well kept with green, well-tended small lawns. Many two-story apartment buildings have been added and children play around their entrances.
Residents of the area offered conflicting interpretations of the rioting. “The cops, they keep coming in here and busting heads,” said a neatly dressed young man selling a Black Muslim newspaper. “They had it coming.”
Mrs. M. J. Ellis, who describes herself as a missionary, blamed restless teenagers. “Their parents can’t seem to do anything and the police can’t do anything either”, she said.
Officials were at a loss to explain the cause of the rioting. The unusually hot, smoggy weather was doubtless a contributing factor.