The African-American community in Watts came to its boiling [point] in August 1965 after years of police discrimination, exclusion from high-paying jobs and residential segregation. Racially restrictive covenants had kept 95 percent of Los Angeles real estate off-limits to the black and Asian communities which severely restricted education and economic opportunities for them.
Where the black community could buy homes in American suburbia and live out the middle-class dream, significant racial violence escalated. White gangs bombed homes and burnt crosses on the lawns. In response to the assaults, black mutual protection clubs formed and became the basis of the region’s fearsome street gangs.
So despite their conservative attire (including some really, really uncomfortably tight-looking pants), these men were still characterized as “fearsome.” Hmm. It’s also unclear whether the cardigans moved the ball on the underlying racial issues that inspired the riots and drew attention to their community in the first place. (Wild guess: Not at all.)
But at least they felt good about themselves?
Editor’s note: The original text misstated the year of the Life magazine article.