I don't remember the Watts Riots myself. I was an infant in the summer of 1965. But my parents remember it. We were living on 74th Street and Denker Avenue, near the intersection of Normandie and Florence, 3.3 miles from the site of the initial arrest that led to the riots. I asked my mother to write about her memories of those events. So travel back in time with LAgrandma . . .
My first impression of the news that businesses were being attacked in Watts was that it was senseless. I couldn't figure out how burning business establishments would solve the problem of police brutality and racial injustice. As a matter of fact, those who were being killed in the process were blacks. Amid the profanities and expressed frustrations of the alleged oppressed, I could sense that a backlash of a stream of hatred toward all blacks could be the result.
As it went on for days on end, and the looting and rioting grew worse, curfews were imposed on many residential areas, including ours. As my husband and I had only been married for slightly less than two years, and we had a small baby and I was pregnant with another, we decided to head back to my hometown, which was San Bernardino. Our plans were to stay there until the whole thing passed over.
On our way on the 10 freeway, we heard a horn honk. We turned to see who or what it was, and it was a dear friend of mine from the same hometown and her husband and small baby, who were also headed back to San Bernardino. A few miles later, there was another couple that we knew from San Bernardino, doing likewise! We stayed in San Bernardino for a couple of days.
When we returned home, we guardedly went back to our normal activities. Several businesses in our area, although not directly affected by arson or looting, had decided that they'd had enough of being vulnerable to the general public, and had closed their shops. For blocks and blocks, especially on Vermont Avenue, businesses were burned to the ground. There were other areas on the east side of town that were far worse. The police chief was under a lot of attack and was eventually replaced.
Equal opportunity was one of the themes of the protests, and was much more in the forefront in the job market and caused a different climate of opportunity for blacks, which was a positive outcome resulting in affirmative action to right injustices.
Thanks for contributing to my blog, Mom! And thanks for getting my brother and me out of town!
Unfortunately, history sometimes repeats itself. In 1992, I was employed at King/Drew Medical Center, which had been built in response to the '65 riots in an attempt to improve the neighborhood (KDMC, of course, is now considered a blight on the city and is in danger of being shut down). When the '92 riots broke out, I had the same reaction my parents had in their day. I left the little place where I was living and went to their house in Carson until things simmered down. I didn't go to work for several days.