50 Years After Watts: The Causes of a Riot


It was Aug. 11, 1965, that Los Angeles police officer Lee Minikus tried to arrest Marquette Frye for driving drunk in the city’s Watts neighborhood—an event that led to one of the most infamous race riots in American history. By the time the week was over, nearly three dozen people were dead. TIME’s coverage from those incendiary days offers insight into why Watts erupted–and lessons for the current charged moment in America.

Fifty years ago, Watts was a potent combination of segregation, unemployment and racial tension. Though legally integrated, 99% of students at the high school that served Watts were black, and the school—like many of the services available to the neighborhood—was not serving them well. “Watts is the kind of community that cries out for urban renewal, poverty programs, job training. Almost anything would help. Two-thirds of its residents have less than a high school education; one-eighth of…

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