[News] Walter Mosely & RF Williams on Watts

Anti-Imperialist News News at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 12 11:58:59 EDT 2005

Riot: Aug. 11, 1965: The day oppression 

The riot was a rebellion, a naturally formed revolution, an unconscious 
expression of a people who had lived entire lives, many generations, in a 
state of enforced unconsciousness. It was about people who were poor and 
undereducated, people who had no motherland or mother tongue or even a 
history as far as most of them knew.

Aug. 11, 1965: The day oppression exploded

Aug. 11, 2005

By Walter Mosley

Special to the Los Angeles Times

What we remember about Watts and its environs that hot summer is not nearly 
as important as what we forget.

Many of us remember a young man arrested on Aug. 11, 1965, for a crime he 
may or may not have committed and the way the streets of Los Angeles became 
a war zone. Whole blocks went up in flames. Dozens died. The National Guard 
was called out. Five days of violence blazed, and the whole nation, the 
whole world, took notice.

What we don’t remember, what many of us never really considered, was that 
this was a mass political action that had no leaders, no apologists, no 
internal critics. The Watts riot was a spontaneous act of a people who had 
been oppressed, emasculated and impoverished for too long.

The riot was a rebellion, a naturally formed revolution, an unconscious 
expression of a people who had lived entire lives, many generations, in a 
state of enforced unconsciousness. It was about people who were poor and 
undereducated, people who had no motherland or mother tongue or even a 
history as far as most of them knew.

I was 12 years old that summer. My parents had moved west by then, over 
near Fairfax and Pico in West Los Angeles. But on the third night of the 
riot, I found myself being driven through parts of town that were rife with 
burning, looting and violence. One might think that this would provide me 
with an interesting memory of that time. But I don’t find it particularly 
enlightening. Violence is merely a symptom of a deeper malady.

The citizens of Watts understood that if a black son was arrested, he was 
likely to get brutalized, railroaded, blindsided, humiliated. And that it 
didn’t have much to do with whether he was innocent or guilty.

And so young people (and some old) poured gasoline into beer bottles, added 
a rag and flicker and made a statement that had lain fallow in their hearts 
for more years than they had been living, a statement that had been 
whispered by ancestors so far back that its first utterance had been the 
murmur of slaves.

The Watts riot was unity without direction, agreement without understanding.

The Watts riot was a deep-seated anger at injustice that had gone on 
unchallenged, that was intended to go on forever. There would be no true 
power for black people. They did not deserve a history or a world view or 
even a place at most tables. The Watts riot was the product of an 
intelligence that was unaware of itself. It was an action that was artless, 
unstructured and unplanned.

So, what’s so important about this? What lesson could we possibly learn 
today from that 40-year-old expression of unrest?

Maybe some people reading these words already have an answer. Maybe they 
know about the million black men and women languishing in prison ­ 
overcrowded, bored and hopeless; they know about the millions more who are 
soon to return to the penal system with its punitive rules and 
representatives. They know about the gangs that form in the vacuum of hope. 
They know about the innocents and soldiers hung out to dry on foreign soil. 
They know about the shrinking pot and the empty promises and the intentions 
of those in power to keep the status quo.

The immediate and mostly unconscious result of the Watts riot was that some 
people got a sense of bitter satisfaction while others learned to fear. But 
this is not knowledge, not learning. The lesson, for black and white, was 
taught but not learned.

People all over the world are suffering. They’re angry and disaffected, 
lost and staring at TV screens or podiums dominated by religious zealots. 
There’s a thought somewhere in their unconsciousness, a word waiting to be 

This is what I am remembering when I think about that hot summer. I am 
remembering a future that will be forgotten before we know it has happened.
Walter Mosley is the author of “Little Scarlet,” a mystery set five days 
after the Watts riots.

1965 saw the assassination of Malcolm X and the
historic Los Angeles Watts Rebellion. Williams, from Cuba in
1965, broadcast this defiant message on Radio Free Dixie:

Robert Williams—We are witnessing the beginning of a ferocious
and devastating firestorm. We are living in an age of great
upheaval. We are living in an age of violence and revolution.
We are living in an age where the angry cry of “Freedom!” rises
from every quarter, as the slave rises to challenge the enslaver.
Yes, we see mighty racist America quiver from the impact of a
terrifying shockwave of freedom. Yes, Los Angeles, Los Angeles
is a warning to oppressor racists beasts that they can no longer
enjoy immunity from retribution for their brutal crimes of
violence and oppression of our people. Let them be apprised of
the fight. That we are going to have justice or set the torch to
racist America. The masses of our people want relief from their
misery. They want freedom and justice and they want it now.
Unemployment is greater than before. The Afro-American
is still the last to be hired and the first to be fired. The Afro-
American’s head is still the number one target of the brutal thug
cop’s billy club. The Afro-American is still the number one victim
of racist kangaroo court frame-ups. Our homes and churches are
still being bombed and burned to the ground. We must protect
ourselves. We must defend ourselves. We must meet violence
with violence. Racist and imperialist America has extended
herself too much on the world front. She cannot fight imperialist
wars throughout the world and put down a colonial war at home

My brothers and sisters, the only justice we are going
to get is the justice we take. Times are critical. We are facing
a future wherein the streets shall become like rivers of blood.
Let us be prepared to fight to the death. Let it be known to the
world that we shall meet their sophisticated weapons of violence
with the crude and simple flame of a match. Let us resist tyranny
to the death. Resist, resist, resist! Burn, burn, burn! Death to
the oppressor! Down with the thug cops! To the streets and let
our battle cry be heard around the world! Freedom, freedom,
freedom now or death!

The Freedom Archives
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San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 863-9977
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