Black August: The Watts Rebellion

By Tracey Onyenacho Aug 28, 2020

The Black August series highlights historical events that remind us of the legacy of Black radical tradition. Black August is a month that holds space for political education and the study of Black history, resilience and resistance. Black August was started by incarcerated people in the 1970s after the death of George Jackson and August was chosen for its significance in many important dates in Black struggle.

The 1965 rebellion in Watts, a working-class neighborhood in South Central Los Angeles, began after a long history of racial tension between Black people and police officers. 

The revolt started after a highway patrol officer stopped Marquette Frye while he was driving in Watts. With a crowd of onlookers, the officer arrested Frye on the suspicion of driving drunk. Watts residents reported seeing the him assault Frye in the street during the arrest. 

Residents surrounded the police station in protest of both the arrest and violence that police officers directed toward people who pointed out Frye’s assault. Things escalated when multiple police officers, including more than 14,000 California Nation Guard troops, arrived in Watts. The rebellion went on for six days, leaving more than 34 people dead, 1,000 people wounded and over 3,000 people arrested. 

Today—more than 50 years later—there are still people in the streets fighting police violence and oppression, giving truth to the words of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "A riot is the language of the unheard."