Civil Rights Movement

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1965 Aug 11 - Aug 16

Watts Riots

Watts, Los Angeles, CA, USA

The new Voting Rights Act of 1965 had no immediate effect on living conditions for poor blacks. A few days after the act became law, a riot broke out in the South Central Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. Like Harlem, Watts was a majority-black neighborhood with very high unemployment and associated poverty. Its residents confronted a largely white police department that had a history of abuse against blacks.


While arresting a young man for drunk driving, police officers argued with the suspect's mother before onlookers. The spark triggered massive destruction of property through six days of rioting in Los Angeles. Thirty-four people were killed, and property valued at about $40 million was destroyed, making the Watts riots among the city's worst unrest until the Rodney King riots of 1992.


With black militancy on the rise, ghetto residents directed acts of anger at the police. Black residents growing tired of police brutality continued to riot. Some young people joined groups such as the Black Panthers, whose popularity was based in part on their reputation for confronting police officers. Riots among blacks occurred in 1966 and 1967 in cities such as Atlanta, San Francisco, Oakland, Baltimore, Seattle, Tacoma, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Newark, Chicago, New York City (specifically in Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx), and worst of all in Detroit.

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