[Marxism] Moseley: The Watts Uprising, August 11, 1965

John A Imani johnaimani at earthlink.net
Wed Aug 11 12:32:34 MDT 2010

The Watts Uprising, August 11, 1965

What we forget about Watts. The riot was spontaneous, leaderless
and fueled by a long-smoldering rage that is still burning.

By Walter Mosley
LA Times: August 9, 2005

WALTER MOSLEY is the author, most recently, of "Little Scarlet" (Little,
Brown, 2005), a mystery featuring Easy Rawlins and set five days after the
Watts riots.

WHAT WE remember about Watts and its environs that hot summer is not nearly
as important as what we forget. Many of us remember a young man arrested for
a crime he may or may not have committed, and the way the streets of Los
Angeles became a war zone. Whole blocks went up in flames. Dozens died. The
National Guard was called out. Five days of violence blazed and the whole
nation, the whole world, took notice.

What we don't remember, what many of us never really considered, was that
this was a mass political action that had no leaders, no apologists, no
internal critics. The Watts riot was a spontaneous act of a people who had
been oppressed, emasculated and impoverished for too long. It didn't matter
if the man being arrested was guilty or not. It didn't matter if the police
stood out in the street and said to go home. Who cared what they said or
what their laws said? Who cared about property that would never be ours?

The riot was a rebellion, a naturally formed revolution, an unconscious
expression of a people who had lived entire lives, many generations, in a
state of enforced unconsciousness. It was about people who were poor and
undereducated, people who had no motherland or mother tongue or even a
history as far as most of them knew.

I was 12 years old that summer. My parents had moved west by then, over near
Fairfax and Pico. But on the third night of the riot, I found myself being
driven through parts of town that were rife with burning, looting and
violence. One might think that this would provide me with an interesting
memory of that time. But I don't find it particularly enlightening. Violence
is merely a symptom of a deeper malady.

The citizens of Watts understood that if a black son was arrested, he was
likely to get brutalized, railroaded, blindsided, humiliated. And that it
didn't have much to do with whether he was innocent or guilty.

And so young people (and some old) poured gasoline into beer bottles, added
a rag and flicker and made a statement that had lain fallow in their hearts
for more years than they had been living, a statement that had been
whispered by ancestors so far back that its first utterance had been the
murmur of slaves.

The Watts riot was unity without direction, agreement without understanding.

This was not the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. This was not the
NAACP. This was not Paul Robeson or Jesse Owens or any other identifiable
group, movement or personality.

The Watts riot was a deep-seated anger at injustice that had gone on
unchallenged, that was intended to go on forever. There would be no true
power for black people. They did not deserve a history or a worldview or
even a place at most tables. The Watts riot was the product of an
intelligence that was unaware of itself. It was an action that was artless,
unstructured and unplanned.

So, what's so important about this? What lesson could we possibly learn
today from that 40-year-old expression of unrest?

Maybe some people reading these words already have an answer. Maybe they
know about the million black men and women languishing in prison -
overcrowded, bored and hopeless; they know about the millions more who are
soon to return to the penal system with its punitive rules and

They know about the gangs that form in the vacuum of hope. They know about
the innocents and soldiers hung out to dry on foreign soil. They know about
the shrinking pot and the empty promises and the intentions of those in
power to keep the status quo.

The immediate and mostly unconscious result of the Watts riot was that some
people got a sense of bitter satisfaction while others learned to fear. But
this is not knowledge, not learning. The lesson, for black and white, was
taught but not learned.

People all over the world - in Darfur and Cleveland, Paris and Jakarta - are
suffering. They're angry and disaffected, lost and staring at TV screens or
podiums dominated by religious zealots. There's a thought somewhere in their
unconsciousness, a word waiting to be spoken.

This is what I am remembering when I think about that hot summer. I am
remembering a future that will be forgotten before we know it has happened.


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