Magazine article The Crisis

Q&A: Looking Back: 40 Years after the 1965 Watts Riots

Magazine article The Crisis

Q&A: Looking Back: 40 Years after the 1965 Watts Riots

Article excerpt

On Aug. 11, 1965, a White policeman pulled over 21-year-old Marquette Frye in the southern part of Los Angeles known as Watts. But what seemed like a routine traffic stop would spark one of the worst riots in the nation's history.

For 144 hours, more than 10,000 African Americans would take to the streets, looting stores, setting fires and beating unsuspecting White passersby. At the end of six days, 34 people were dead, more than 1,000 injured and hundreds of buildings were destroyed. The property damage was estimated at $40 million.

Yvonne Braithwaite Burke was an attorney for the McCone Commission, a government-appointed body that issued a report identifying high unemployment, poor schools and inferior living conditions as causes for the riot.

A year after the riots, Burke became a California state assembly-woman and in 1972, she was elected to the U.S. Congress. Since 1992, Burke has been a Los Angeles County supervisor for the second district. She was the first African American to chair the county's Board of Supervisors.

Burke spoke to The Crisis about the 1965 Watts riots and how the area has changed in the last four decades.

Where were you during the riots?

I was in the police building when it first started. I was in the basement. I had just completed a hearing. I didn't know what was going on. There was a tremendous amount of confusion and excitement. They told me there are a lot of problems out in Watts.

Why were people rioting?

There had been a lot of dissatisfaction with the way police were treating people in the community. …

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