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Race Riots

Source: Keystone / Getty

Fifty-six years ago on this day, Aug. 11, 1965, what is oftentimes referred to as the Watts Riots but more accurately described as the Watts Uprising or Watts Rebellion began in the eponymous Black neighborhood in Los Angeles, lasting for six harrowing days.

Prompted by circumstances that remain all too familiar in 2021, the community was reacting to a preventable instance of police brutality viciously used against an unarmed young, Black motorist as a growing crowd of onlookers witnessed the violence.

MORE: The Watts Riots: The Fire Still Burns

Marquette Frye and his brother were pulled over under the suspicion of drunk driving. After failing a field sobriety test, Frye’s brother, Ronald, went to get their mother, who arrived as Marquette was being placed under arrest. Frye’s mother physically confronted officers on the scene and ended up tearing one of their shirts.

That’s when California Highway Patrol Officer Lee Minikus, who pulled Frye over, accused him of resisting arrest and used his baton and hit the 21-year-old man in the head.

Twenty-five years later, Minkus would tell the Los Angeles Times that he meant to hit Frye on the arm when the suspect ducked and got hit in the eye instead. But either way, the literal and figurative damage was done, as that was the moment that ultimately sparked off nearly one full week of a community fed up with racial profiling and police brutality reacting by looting local establishments and setting them on fire along with cars.

The nonstop uprising prompted California officials to call in the National Guard, with nearly 14,000 troops responding to patrol the city.

In the end, 34 people had died, more than 1,000 people were injured and police arrested nearly 4,000 people. In addition, an estimated $40 million worth of damage had been left behind.

MORE: Here’s What The Watts Riots Would Have Looked Like If We Had Twitter In 1965

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was among the civil rights leaders to come to Watts in an effort to address the root cause of such an uprising, the King Institute reminds on its website.

The economic deprivation, social isolation, inadequate housing, and general despair of thousands of Negroes teeming in Northern and Western ghettos are the ready seeds which give birth to tragic expressions of violence,” King said the day after the Watts rebellion ended, Aug. 17, 1965.

Unfortunately, the sage perspective from King was not enough to prevent a very similar occurrence nearly 27 years later when officers with the Los Angeles Police Department pulled over motorist Rodney King and savagely beat him in an instance of egregious police brutality that sparked more than six days of rioting in South Central Los Angeles — a moment in history that went on to be known as the Los Angeles Riots.

Keep reading to find some vintage, powerful photos that documented the Watts Uprising in vivid black and white photos. They are accompanied by their original captions.

1. Watts Riots

Watts Riots Source:Getty

Members of the National Guard take aim during rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles, during the Watts Riots, August 1965. (Photo by Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images) people,full length,horizontal,usa,adult,adults only,california,city of los angeles,law,males,only men,helmet,men,two people,street,geographical locations,black and white,archival,us military,police force,residential district,conflict,weapon,gun,aiming,1960-1969,work helmet,emergency services occupation,mannequin,riot,national guard,racial tensions,trooper,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,accidents and disasters

2. Watts Riots

Watts Riots Source:Getty

A policeman searches a suspect during rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles, August 1965. (Photo by Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images) people,full length,horizontal,usa,adult,adults only,california,city of los angeles,law,only men,crime,men,two people,street,geographical locations,doorway,black and white,archival,police force,conflict,searching,1960-1969,suspicion,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

3. Injured Man

Injured Man Source:Getty

A blood-splattered man sitting beside an armed policeman, during the Watts Riots, Los Angeles, California, 11th-15th August 1965. (Photo by Harry Benson/Express/Getty Images) color image,people,horizontal,usa,adult,city of los angeles,law,sitting,men,north america,black and white,archival,human interest,physical injury,couple – relationship,social issues,police force,conflict,weapon,racism,1960-1969,human role,riot,1965 watts riots

4. Watts Race Riots In Los Angeles

Watts Race Riots In Los Angeles Source:Getty

A group of Black men are confronted by state troopers with bayonets at a street corner in the Watts neighborhood, Los Angeles, California, circa 1960s. (Photo by Express Newspapers/Getty Images) color image,people,horizontal,usa,adult,waist up,california,city of los angeles,men,medium group of people,street,politics,black and white,archival,walking,social issues,minority groups,residential district,racism,1960-1969,uniform,corner,police uniform,riot,marching,racial tensions,bayonet,trooper,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,human rights

5. 1965 Watts Riot Looting

1965 Watts Riot Looting Source:Getty

Riots in the Watts section with Negro youths carrying armloads of clothes running from looted stores, Los Angeles, California, August 1965. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images) people,full length,arts culture and entertainment,horizontal,usa,california,city of los angeles,african ethnicity,city,medium group of people,archival,carrying,incidental people,clothing,shopping,1960-1969,riot,racial tensions,looting,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

6. Watts Riot Arrest

Watts Riot Arrest Source:Getty

Two African-American men hold their hands up against the wall of a dry cleaners while being arrested by Caucasian state troopers during the Watts race riots, Los Angeles, California, 16th August 1965. (Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images) color image,photography,horizontal,usa,adult,city of los angeles,law,african-american ethnicity,caucasian ethnicity,men,north america,black and white,archival,american culture,police force,conflict,1960-1969,hand,riot,racial tensions,black history in the us,trooper,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,dry cleaner

7. “Turn Left Or Get Shot” Sign In Street

"Turn Left Or Get Shot" Sign In Street Source:Getty

(Original Caption) 8/18/1965-Los Angeles, CA: Although law and order have been re-established in the strife-torn Watts district of Los Angeles, this sign remains as a terrifying symbol of the events that passed. As a further sign of peace, Governor Edmund G. Brown ended 8/17 the curfew forbidding people from being on the streets after dark. no people,photography,horizontal,city of los angeles,law,safety,night,danger,warning sign,fear,event,archival,social issues,conflict,1960-1969,district,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

8. Martin L. King Gesturing Among Crowd

Martin L. King Gesturing Among Crowd Source:Getty

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addresses a group of Watts district residents and tells them he is “here to support you because you supported me in the South”. Dr. King spoke only a few blocks away from the worst damage left in the wake of the week-long rampage during the Watts Riots of 1965. photography,people,horizontal,adult,civil rights,african-american ethnicity,sitting,caucasian ethnicity,men,photography themes,mustache,activist,archival,spectator,photographing,listening,social issues,conflict,martin luther king jr.,speech,1960-1969,district,politics and government,public speaker,riot,racial tensions,black history in the us,1965 watts riots,human rights,crowd of people,social justice – concept

9. Watts Rioters And Police

Watts Rioters And Police Source:Getty

Armed police stand by as rioters lie face down in the street during the Watts race riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) color image,photography,full length,horizontal,usa,california,city of los angeles,street,politics,standing,archival,police force,conflict,weapon,1960-1969,politics and government,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

10. Line of Guardsmen at Barricade

Line of Guardsmen at Barricade Source:Getty

(Original Caption) 8/15/1965- Long Beach, CA- National Guardsmen line a barricade in Long Beach. Governor Brown summoned them to stop further violence, after a policeman was killed during an outbreak of rioting. photography,people,horizontal,adult,mid adult,caucasian ethnicity,men,group of people,night,30-39 years,mid adult men,archival,social issues,army soldier,conflict,1960-1969,long beach – california,crisis,riot,national guard,racial tensions,barricade,1965 watts riots

11. Burning Building in 1965 Los Angeles Race Riots

Burning Building in 1965 Los Angeles Race Riots Source:Getty

(Original Caption) 8/13/1965-Los Angeles, CA: Three stores burn to the ground on Avalon Blvd. in the Watts area as the fire department was unable to get to the scene of the fire due to rioting by Negroes. Burning, looting mobs ruled the Watts section of Los Angeles in what the police have called the worst riot in the city’s history. Acting Gov. Glenn Anderson has ordered the National Guard to help put down the violence and looting by several thousand Negroes in the area. (Original Caption) photography,people,horizontal,city of los angeles,african-american ethnicity,african ethnicity,high angle view,damaged,street,geographical locations,archival,store,western script,conflict,shopping,smoke – physical structure,1960-1969,burnt,fire – natural phenomenon,garbage,burning,small group of people,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,accidents and disasters

12. National Guard And Fires In Watts Riots

National Guard And Fires In Watts Riots Source:Getty

Armed National Guardsmen march toward smoke on the horizon during the street fires of the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) color image,full length,horizontal,usa,california,city of los angeles,outdoors,horizon,street,politics,black and white,archival,walking,conflict,weapon,smoke – physical structure,armed forces,1960-1969,uniform,military uniform,riot,national guard,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

13. Fire Burning In Southeast Los Angeles

Fire Burning In Southeast Los Angeles Source:Getty

(Original Caption) 8/16/1965-Los Angeles, CA: The War In The West: Black smoke darkens the sky over Southeast Los Angeles, during the fourth day of the six day rioting in the Negro area. Fires burned over a wide area along with looting and violence in the Nation’s worst Negro riot in two decades, which was sparked off August 12th. (Original Caption) no people,photography,horizontal,city of los angeles,geographical locations,sky,archival,conflict,war,smoke – physical structure,1960-1969,day 4,fire – natural phenomenon,burning,riot,racial tensions,black color,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,accidents and disasters

14. Race Riot

Race Riot Source:Getty

An armed policeman stands beside the body of a black American protester during the race riots in the Watts district of Los Angeles, 11th-15th August 1965. (Photo by Harry Benson/Getty Images) color image,people,horizontal,usa,california,city of los angeles,north america,death,standing,black and white,archival,dead person,clothing,human interest,couple – relationship,social issues,police force,minority groups,conflict,weapon,violence,gun,protest,1960-1969,protestor,uniform,district,police uniform,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,social justice – concept

15. Warren Wilson On the Phone

Warren Wilson On the Phone Source:Getty

(Original Caption) UPI Staff Correspondent Warren Wilson phones in his story from the Watts area early 8/13 following bitter rioting in the Negro area. Wilson said the crowd, mostly young Negroes, starred unsuspectingly at me. I was one of them and they called me “brother”. Wilson dressed in a torn shirt with the tail hanging out of work trousers mingled in the crowd and witnessed the stomping & stoning of a white man that tried to drive through the area. photography,people,one person,horizontal,city of los angeles,telephone,african ethnicity,lifestyles,geographical locations,archival,conflict,1960-1969,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,following – moving activity

16. Looting in Watts Area

Looting in Watts Area Source:Getty

(Original Caption) Looters carrying clothing and packages from store in the Watts area as looting, rioting and burning continues in the Negro area. Acting Governor Glenn Anderson called out the California National Guard to help put down the bloody riot, now in its third day. photography,people,horizontal,city of los angeles,african ethnicity,government,geographical locations,large group of people,archival,carrying,store,clothing,human interest,conflict,1960-1969,burning,politics and government,riot,racial tensions,looting,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

17. Sheriffs Searching Car During Watts Riots

Sheriffs Searching Car During Watts Riots Source:Getty

Los Angeles County Sheriffs search a car during the Watts Riots, finding a case of vodka, while the car’s driver stands handcuffed nearby. photography,people,horizontal,adult,law,african-american ethnicity,mid adult,car,crime,handcuffs,caucasian ethnicity,men,three people,30-39 years,mid adult men,standing,archival,social issues,los angeles county,conflict,finding,searching,1960-1969,suspicion,vodka,riot,racial tensions,looting,sheriff,1965 watts riots,driver – occupation,alcohol – drink

18. Bombed Out City Block

Bombed Out City Block Source:Getty

(Original Caption) 8/14/1965-Los Angeles, CA- Almost a full city block appears to be bombed out in the district of Watts, a Negro ghetto in Los Angeles, following 4 days of burning, looting and rioting by Negroes. no people,photography,horizontal,city of los angeles,aerial view,city,politics,archival,conflict,1960-1969,district,burning,politics and government,riot,racial tensions,looting,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

19. Riot Suspect

Riot Suspect Source:Getty

A suspect being searched by two armed police during the Watts race riots in Los Angeles, California, 11th-15th August 1965. (Photo by Harry Benson/Getty Images) color image,horizontal,usa,california,city of los angeles,law,helmet,north america,black and white,archival,clothing,church,social issues,police force,minority groups,conflict,weapon,gun,searching,1960-1969,human role,headwear,suspicion,sports helmet,police uniform,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles

20. National Guardsmen in Watts

National Guardsmen in Watts Source:Getty

Two National Guardsmen watch the intersection of Imperial and Avalon in Watts on August 17, 1965, the day after the end of the violent rioting in the neighborhood. Between them on a roadblock is an Army recruitment sign. photography,people,horizontal,law,day,caucasian ethnicity,two people,city,street,archival,recruitment,social issues,residential district,conflict,violence,1960-1969,road intersection,riot,national guard,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,business finance and industry

21. National Guardsman Smokes After Watts Riots

National Guardsman Smokes After Watts Riots Source:Getty

An armed National Guard patrolman leans against a street sign, smoking a cigarette and standing in rubble following the Watts riots, Los Angeles, California, August 1965. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images) color image,people,full length,one person,horizontal,usa,california,city of los angeles,outdoors,street,politics,standing,black and white,archival,leaning,rubble,conflict,weapon,1960-1969,uniform,military uniform,cigarette,riot,national guard,marching,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,smoking – activity,following – moving activity

22. Watts Riots

Watts Riots Source:Getty

A policeman guides a group of women to safety during rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles, August 1965. Their homes have been destroyed during the conflict. (Photo by Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images) people,full length,horizontal,usa,adult,california,city of los angeles,law,purse,safety,men,women,night,medium group of people,street,geographical locations,black and white,archival,pointing,police force,conflict,1960-1969,emergency services occupation,flashlight,directing,riot,racial tensions,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,accidents and disasters

23. Watts Riots

Watts Riots Source:Getty

With his .22 hunting rifle on his lap and a revolver in his belt, heavyweight boxer Amos Lincoln, aka Big Train, guards the family drug store during rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles, August 1965. (Photo by Express/Archive Photos/Getty Images) people,full length,one person,horizontal,family,usa,adult,adults only,finance,sport,california,city of los angeles,one man only,sitting,men,retail,geographical locations,handgun,black and white,drug,archival,store,determination,belt,conflict,weapon,merchandise,gun,1960-1969,heavyweight,rifle,guarding,riot,racial tensions,championship belt,1965 watts riots,watts – los angeles,business finance and industry,boxing – sport

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