As we mark 50 years since the Watts riots, expect endless newsreel footage of buildings aflame and National Guard units occupying Central Avenue, experts rattling off gruesome statistics, eyewitness accounts of that stifling hot night on Aug. 11, 1965, when Marquette Frye's drunk driving arrest became the flashpoint for one of the worst incidents of civil unrest in U.S. history.
But a focus on violence and looting reduces the people of Watts to “rioters” rather than residents confronting social and economic catastrophe. What they burned is less important than what they built, both before and after the insurrection.
By 1965, Watts faced double-digit unemployment,...
President Barack Obama, at the time the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to attendees at the 99th annual convention of the NAACP in Cincinnati, Ohio.