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Fanning the Flames of Oppression


I was a hot night in 1965, just a few minutes after seven o'clock. A 21-year old African American man named Marquette Frye was driving home from a friend's house. He had been drinking before he left, and his driving showed it. He swerved through a 35 mph zone going 50 mph!

In a short time, a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer pulled him over to ask him some questions. Marquette was friendly with the police officer, and cracked a few jokes so the officer would let him go. A few people passing by stopped to watch their conversation. Marquette felt good about having an audience.

The officer decided not to let Marquette go. The officer thought Marquette was too drunk to drive, so he called for back-up (help from another police officer). But when they tried to arrest Marquette, he refused to go. He was angry because the world had been unfair to him because of the color of his skin. He believed that the white policemen trying to arrest him were a symbol of how life was unfair to blacks. He resisted arrest, shouting "You'll have to kill me before you take me to jail."

These words were scary to hear for the crowd of black people that had gathered to watch. Nobody dared to say things like that before. The policemen did arrest Marquette and put him into the squad car, but the crowd became angry and unruly. The police arrested more people before finally leaving.


Who needs sleep when you've got Nick on your side?

The people left in the crowd were angry. Angry because their lives were difficult. Angry because they did not have good places to live, go to school, or go to work. Many white people treated them unfairly because of their skin color. Because of this anger, they rioted. People set fire to businesses and property, mostly owned by whites. The residents of Los Angeles started to understand how bad things had become to make people so angry.

When the police and military came to quiet things down, it only got worse. There was shooting and violence. People were injured and killed. It was a mess. But finally, after about five days, the rioting ended. Things were never the same.

Murals liven up the community of Watt
You might think the neighborhood of Watts would still be a mess today, but when Nick and I went to visit we found wonderful soul food restaurants, beauty parlors, churches, libraries, and a thriving arts center. We visited the Watts Labor Community Action Committee and spoke with Ijnanya Marigna about the riot and the community today.

Ijnanya Marigna works with kids at the WLCAC
"I saw the '65 riot as a source of pride, because we were finally standing up to the system," she said. "When I saw the riots on TV, I decided then and there I wanted to move to Watts. I've been here ever since, and I wouldn't go any place else. This is my queendom."

Today, Watts is trying to heal the wounds of the past. That is difficult to do when the same problems are still around. Isn't it time we do something about them


Please email me at: stephanie@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Neda -Martin Luther King, Jr. and a shattered peace movement
Jennifer - X stands for: Fight the powers that be!