August 11: Today in 1965, the Arrest of a Black California Motorist Sparked the Watts Race Riots

0 Posted by - August 11, 2020 - On This Date

Photo credits: The Los Angeles Times

An arrest made on Aug. 11, 1965, ultimately sparked the Watts riots, one of the most historic race-related riots in the nation’s history.

White California Highway Patrolman Lee W. Minikus pulled over and arrested Marquette Frye, a young African-American driver whom he suspected of drunk driving.

Triggered by growing tension between the police officers and a crowd of onlookers, a violent exchange quickly erupted. The outbreak following Frye’s arrest instantly spread to surrounding areas, inciting a large-scale riot in the commercial section of Watts, a destitute African-American neighborhood located in South Central Los Angeles.

As a result, 14,000 California National Guard troops were assembled throughout the area and a curfew zone was established. Thirty-four people died, over 1,000 people were wounded and nearly 3,500 people were arrested over the course of six days.

The largest and costliest urban revolt of the civil rights era, the Watts Riot produced an estimated $50 million to $100 million in property damage.

Mixed messages about the riot circulated the media, including debates on whether those involved were thugs or merely reflecting their disadvantaged environments.  

Source:  Patrice Peck for the BET Network via

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