Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Discover all the ways you can make a difference.
Support Icon
The Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams are here to help.

August 1965 - Riots Break Out in Watts

Support Provided By

On August 11, 1965, a drunk driving arrest touched off a public skirmish involving local residents and law enforcement, eventually erupting into six days of rioting on the streets of the Los Angeles community of Watts.

Watts Riots
Two men stand in front of a residence burned during the Watts Riots. | Photo: Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive/UCLA Library, Digital Collections/Creative Commons License

That evening, Lee Minikus, a white California Highway Patrol officer, pulled over 21 year-old black motorist Marquette Frye for reckless driving at the intersection of 116th Street and Avalon Boulevard in Watts. After failing a sobriety test, Frye was placed under arrest, and his car, a 1955 Buick registered under his mother's name, was impounded. The passenger of the car, Frye's brother Ronald, walked home and brought their mother, Rena Price, back to the scene.

A physical altercation involving Price, the arrested Frye, and officers erupted, and backup officers physically subdued Frye as a group of local residents witnessed the scene. The crowd grew in size and soon started shouting and throwing objects at the officers, and Price and Ronald Frye were arrested as well.

Additional officers brought onto the scene were met by crowds throwing rocks, and the violent scene grew as clashes between residents and police, and eventually National Guardsmen, intensified. Businesses, mostly owned by whites, were burned and looted, triggered by unfair practices experienced by the black residents.

Many community members considered the event to be a rebellion, a reaction to decades of racial covenants and unfair housing practices, police brutality, a deficient educational system, and other socioeconomic factors. The Watts Riots became a key moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

By the time the civil unrest died down on August 17, 34 people died, over 1,000 were injured, and over 3,400 arrests were made. Arson and looting resulted in over $40 million in damage.

In the years following the 1965 Watts Riots, community leaders have attempted ways to engage and empower the community to rebuild the damage and better the community.

In 1972, the KCET program, "Doing It At The Storefront," an African American community public affairs program broadcast from South Central Los Angeles, was a response to the aftermath of the Watts Riots.

Support Provided By
Read More
Members of Jacques Cousteau's team readies the famed explorer for a dive

The 1970s: Cousteau's Odyssey Continues

To a very small degree, I have done my best to follow in the footsteps of Jacques Cousteau.
The view from atop Mount Wilson. Catalina Island can be seen top left, and the downtown Los Angeles skyline is visible far right. The entire city of Pasadena is visible in the lower half of the picture. | Photo: Elson Trinidad

Transmitting Live from Mount Wilson: How KCET's Signal Comes to You

Keeping KCET running on the air, which requires a lot of electricity, a lot of equipment, and a lot of backup systems.
Zarii Arri

Zarii Arri: Teach Our Children to be Nice

Zarii Arri moved to California for acting and ice skating.