To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Watts rebellion (Aug. 11-17, 1965), the California Endowment’s Sons and Brothers Campaign, in partnership with the Community Coalition of South Los Angeles, is “live-tweeting” the uprising, drawing clear parallels between the raw revolution of Watts, a South Los Angeles neighborhood, and its grandchild, the uprising in Ferguson, Mo.
It hasn’t been marked with the pageantry of the 50th anniversary of the voting-rights march in Selma, Ala. (#Selma50), that took place in March of this year. There has been no romanticizing from politicians waxing poetic about how much we’ve overcome as a country. The Watts rebellion was sparked by the arrest of 21-year-old Marquette Frye during what was supposed to be a routine traffic stop by Officer Lee Minikus. It was sustained, though, by rage and pain induced by decades of systemic neglect, oppression and marginalization.
These things were true of Selma, yes, but unlike Selma, revisionism hasn’t been able to reframe Watts as a study in racial reconciliation. NBC Los Angeles describes the Watts rebellion as “six days of fires, clashes with police and violence. … Thirty-four people died, more than 1,000 were injured and scores of buildings were damaged, looted or destroyed—causing an estimated $40 million in damage.”
It wasn’t pretty. It was revolution. It was leader-less. A revolution that aligns with the #BlackLivesMatter movement, most specifically in the days following the state-sanctioned killing of 19-year-old Michael Brown, and again, after his killer, Darren Wilson, was absolved of any responsibility in his death and Brown’s stepfather, Louis Head, urged protesters to “burn this bitch down.”
As with Ferguson, the Watts rebellion illuminated a city tired of being sick and tired.
The emergence of social media, specifically Twitter, has played a huge role in amplifying each moment of the struggle against systemic inequality as evidenced and supported by the rampant police brutality of the past year, specifically in black and brown communities.
Now imagine what the social-justice movement would have looked like if Twitter had been around during the Watts rebellion.
The Root reached out to California Endowment program officer Evangeline Reyes, who said that those parallels are what motivated the group to create the #WattsRiots50 Twitter campaign as a “modern retelling of the historic timeline of the events known as the Watts Riots of 1965.”
“We really wanted our young people to look back and reflect,” said Reyes. “And to understand that if we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it again.
“We wanted to make those critical connections and draw parallels to the persistent challenges that young people face today,” Reyes continued. “In Ferguson and Oakland, [Calif.,] right here in South Los Angeles, and, of course, to show solidarity with the family of Michael Brown.”
Members of Sons and Brothers are running the #WattsRiots50 Twitter campaign. The organization, which has approximately 3,500 members in chapters across the country, strives to amplify the stories of young people of color, redefine the toxic and stereotypical narratives surrounding them and create an environment of health and justice for all.
Check out this innovative campaign at @WattsRiots50.