I’m convinced that educators believe that Black history in America ended in 1965.
I took two African American History courses in college and they were broken up into two eras. Part one covered 1619-1865 and part two covered 1865 to present. I took both courses as Africana Studies was my minor (for those of you who read my blogs, you already know this).
I remember feeling like I needed to check my calendar because we were on the last week of the syllabus and we were talking about the Civil Rights Movement and the Voting Rights Act and then we began discussing the final exam.
Ummmm, just so y’all know, I didn’t go to school in 1970, I took this class in 2005 so what the hell happened to the other almost 40 years?
Our institutions of learning have sent the message that Black History began with slavery and ended in 1965 with lots of victories and equality.
But I got some questions: If everything was going well for Black people why did all hell break loose in August 1965? Even better question; why don’t we learn about the Watts Rebellion and why this happened? Why are schools so hell bent on erasing our struggle and our recent retaliation of the system? And if we’re not teaching about Watts, are we teaching about Ferguson?
I never learned about the Watts Rebellion. My two points of reference include the opening scene of the film Menace II Society and the episode of A Different World when they discuss the 1992 L.A. riots following the beating of Rodney King and the killing of 15-year-old Latasha Harlins.
So that’s about 15 minutes of education. Is that all the time that this issue deserves?
Watts Rebellion August 11th-16th 1965
So WTF happened?
Let me give you the scoop in five bullet points.
- On August 11, 1965, an African American motorist named Marquette Frye was pulled over by a highway patrolman named Lee W. Minkus.
- This happened in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, a predominantly Black, poor neighborhood. Is this story beginning to sound familiar?
- Frye was pulled over because he was “suspected” of being intoxicated. Of course, he was arrested.
- Problem was, there were a bunch of Black people watching the incident and they weren’t trying to hear all that so they confronted the cop and things got physical.
- The riots ensued for six long days. It was summer-what did you expect?
So WTF REALLY happened?
If you just read that recap and thought, “Well that’s a stupid reason to start a riot,” ask yourself the question I just posed. No one begins a riot because one Black man got pulled over by a highway patrolman. The riot happened because there were several incidents (institutionalized racism) of police officers harassing them and several issues that were and still are plaguing the Black community at this time in this neighborhood: housing discrimination, out-of-control unemployment, police brutality on 10 and education on 0.
They rebelled because they were poor and pissed off and because they had no institutional power within the police force.
Let’s use the “if, then” premise: If people are being oppressed, then eventually the oppressed will come for that ass.
As I researched the Watts Rebellion, I came across this site that compiled 50 headlines about the riots.
They were interesting and by interesting, I mean, I’m gonna need for White folks to stop writing about our experiences.
Let me pull out and sprinkle my thought dust on a few of these headlines.
LA Times August 13, 1965: Headline Reads: Residents Put Blame on Police for Uproar.
This was one of the articles that captured the feelings of desperation, hopelessness and rage that many of the Watts’ residents felt at that time. The article quoted an 18-year-old girl who stated,
“I threw bricks and rocks and anything I could get my hands on…to hurt them. We were throwing at anything White. Why not do it to you guys? You’re doing it to us.”
This girl did not say that she was throwing rocks because she saw her cousin throwing them. This is more than what some would argue is Group-think. This is about the system and understanding who has been preventing Black people from moving ahead and who is the obstacle to their freedom. Their target is clear and she acknowledges that White America aka the Po-lice aka White folks in suits, had no problem hitting them both physically and metaphorically so now it’s fair game.
In the LA Times article from August 16, a Watts resident speaks about the relationship between the police and the community stating that, “[the police] thinks of us as brutes, dunces and hoodlums. That kind of attitude naturally builds resentment.”
If White folks were as good at studying Black people as they think they are, they would’ve seen this coming a mile away. But White folks are cocky and they thought that a few Civil Rights bills would pacify everyone.
Nah bruh. Funny thing about laws…you actually have to do more than just write them. You have to implement them. So if anything, the rioters were just following the government’s bad example. Y’all break laws all the time and get away with it- maybe we should too.
Wall Street Journal August 16, 1965- Headline Reads: Behind the Riots- Family Life Breakdown in Negro Slums Sows Seeds of Race Violence; Husbandless Homes Spawn Young Hoodlums, Impede Reforms, Sociologists Say; Racing a Booming Birth Rate
I know this is a lot for a headline but let’s really look at what’s being said here. The writer of this article states that Black people are pretty much morally bankrupt and give birth to hoodlums because they failed to have the traditional family structure. Basically, Black people have to get married and have fewer children and if they do these things, they won’t be bitter and angry and we won’t have $40 million in property damages.
Of course this got the seal of approval because Sociologists said it. Hmmm, I wonder what color those Sociologists were?
These headlines are ripped right out of the Moynihan Report. For those of you who are unfamiliar (as I was until very recently,) I was listening to NPR’s Code Switch when I heard about a man named Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He wrote a book called The Negro Family: The Case for National Action in 1965 in which he blamed out of wedlock Black mothers and deadbeat/missing dads for Black people’s condition.
He failed to mention that institutional racism and chattel slavery implemented by his forefathers separated Black families and didn’t acknowledge Black marriages which made it damn near impossible for a Black traditional family to exist.
This man worked for President Lyndon B. Johnson and was part of the U.S. Department of Labor so he was in the room when really important decisions were being made. I’m sure those decisions affected Black people.
So I’ma need for White folks to stop ‘studying’ us and writing our narratives.
Chicago Tribune August 14, 1965. Headline reads: Troops are Told to Use Gas and Bayonets
LA Sentinel August 19, 1965. Headline Reads: Would Chemicals Have Quelled Riot?
State-sanctioned violence at its finest. All I could think about when I read these headlines was that the Ferguson police had a blueprint. When Black people finally lose it, the response is more violence. What the headlines should have read was, “Let’s Take a Look at Ourselves, White Folks” or “Black People are Fed Up with Our Shit.” Nope. That would be too reflective and might actually allow for real solutions. Instead, we get headlines that are reactive and we see the exploration of tactics that they believe should have been used against the rioters, against the disenfranchised, against those Black bodies.
This was all in the name of keeping things “safe.” How about ensuring that everyone can survive, feed their families and not feel threatened by the government? That’s how you keep people safe- not by the use of tear gas and other chemical agents.
LA Times August 17, 1965: Headline Reads: [Mayor] Parker Hints Muslims Took Part in Rioting
Chicago Tribune August 19, 1965: Headline Reads: Police Shoot Up Mosque, Seize 60 Black Muslims
If you think the way that I think, you are expecting another headline that says, “Trump’s Response to Muslims Participating in Riot: Lock Them Up! Lock Them Up!” But this was 1965 and I’m sure he was on some other bigot bandwagon or getting other small loans from his daddy.
But this narrative about Muslims as villains is nothing new.
Was it necessary to point out that they were Muslims? We know that Malcolm X was being watched by the FBI and The Nation of Islam empowered the Black community which posed a threat to the powers that be so they were definitely on the radar. This is the rhetoric that Americans were reading on a daily basis. Troublesome Negroes and Muslims terrorizing the neighborhood. Their place in society is their own fault. Law and order is needed to keep these groups in their place.
This language was dangerous then and it’s catastrophic now.
So this was the news during the Watts Rebellion. Black people were depicted as terrorizing, amoral people who forced the government to restore law and order. Sounds just like 2017.
When have you discussed the rebellions and so called riots that happened in other cities like Detroit and Newark? The movie Detroit was just released. I haven’t seen it yet but the movie has been described as hard to watch and extremely violent. Use your tools wisely.
How does the Watts Rebellion relate to the Trayvon Martin case, which was the catalyst for the Black Lives Matter movement and all the recent cases of State sanctioned violence on Black bodies for the last 5 years?
Create a unit or think about creating a class called Black Rebellions 1960-present.
Have you been to the Smithsonian African American History Museum? It shows that Black people are creating history daily and shows our joy and not just our pain. Black excellence is real.
Do you remember when we used to do current events in school? How about you bring that back: use headlines about historical events to build students’ background knowledge and to increase engagement and discussion around current events. Have students create alternative headlines to some of the ones that exist once they have all of the information.
I’ve done a similar activity when my classes learned about the Scottsboro Boys. One headline read “Negroes Indicted on Charges of Rape.” After seeing the play, a group of students created the headline, “White Girls Lied so Black Boys Died.”
Today, we’re acknowledging The Watts Rebellion because White folks will have you out here in these streets thinking that this was just a bunch of unruly niggas running around breaking shit as we saw in 1992 with the propaganda of ‘looters’ during the Rodney King Riots.
When actually, rebellions, riots, resistance is about a system that creates desperation and invisibility of Black people, which when pushed to our limit ensures that we will be seen by any means necessary.
When does Black history end in your class? Is it 1965? What can we introduce and discuss that occurred in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s? (Leave comments below)