Remember The 50th Anniversary Of The Watts Riots By Revisiting Wattstax (Video)
Fifty years ago today (August 11, 1965) the Watts Riots began. In South Central Los Angeles, California, the Watts Rebellion (as it also known) would last one week. The historic event followed a Black motorist, Marquette Frye’s traffic arrest by a white Los Angeles Police Department officer Lee Minikus.
Frye was stopped for reported reckless driving, of his mother’s 1955 Buick. With his brother Ronald as passenger, the vehicle was stopped by Minikus, who was on motorcycle. Following a field sobriety test, Marquette Frye was placed under arrest by Officer Minikus. Meanwhile, Ronald walked home to the owner of the car, the men’s mother, Rena Price.
As Minikus awaited for the radio response to impound the Buick, Price arrived at the scene of the arrest. Following a reported subsequent altercation involving Frye, Price, and several LAPD officers, weapons were drawn by the presiding police officers. Reports indicate that aggressive force, on Frye, Price, and other bystanders was used. As the incident progressed, Watts residents gathered and began reportedly throwing objects at authorities. The tensions grew as more residents showed up, and began retaliating against police with rocks upon the ensuing arrests.
As the intensity of the gathering escalated, the National Guard was called upon by LAPD Chief William H. Parker on August 12. A reported 2,300 guardsmen entered Watts, along with an estimated 1,600 uniformed police. Over the six day event lasting 144 hours, there would be 34 deaths, 1,032 injuries, 3,438 arrests, and more than $40 million in damage, according to the archives at University Of Southern California.
Seven years later, Memphis, Tennessee label Stax Records would assemble in Watts. Wattstax, taking place on August 20, 1973 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, would feature the label’s flagship acts such as Isaac Hayes, The Staple Singers, Rufus Thomas, The Bar-Kays, Albert King, The Dramatics, The Emotions, and Carla Thomas, among others. Speaker guest MCs included Richard Pryor and Reverend Jesse Jackson, and Melvin Van Peebles. Tickets were sold at $1 concert-goers, with an album, and Mel Stuart-directed film from the event:
In the 50 years since the Watts Riots, the city has revived to produce Rap luminaries such as Kam, O.F.T.B., and more recently Jay Rock—whose single and upcoming album of the same name is the local zip code, 90059.
Upon the one year anniversary of the murder of Michael Brown by Ferguson, Missouri Police Officer Darren Wilson, Hip-Hop artists including Talib Kweli, Rapsody, Pharoahe Monch, Bun B Immortal Technique, and others performed a free concert near the site of the murder and subsequent protests.
#BonusBeat: This summer, there was a Wattstax Revisited event, including an “Ain’t No Sunshine” cover, led by Compton collaborator Anderson .Paak: