Watts California - Black Flight, migration due to discrimination

Watts is a district in neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. It is widely known for Watts Riots, for migration known as Black Flight, as well as Watts Towers - main landmarks of the district.

Watts, California

The district was established after arrival of Spanish-Mexican migrants in the beginning of 19th century. It was named after Charles H. Watts, who was a land owner and public figure, coming to Los Angeles in 1926.

At first, most population consisted of whites. Black Americans began to settle in Watts California during World War II, in the Second Great Migration. As in the other states of USA, as well as racial segregation, violence against blacks, not even being considered for high-paying jobs was observed in California. Los Angeles courts prevented black Americans to rent or to buy any property in Los-Angeles. In the beginning of 1960s blacks began to build public housing apartment complexes (e.g. Nickerson Garden, Jordan Downs and Imperial Courts) after white Americans started moving from the center of the city.

Watts Riots

Watts district stayed in the memories with riots (that are considered part of the Black History Month). The biggest riot happened between 11-17 August 1965.

Main trigger for the riot was pulling over of Marquette Frye - 21 year old African American motorist by Lee Minikus (a police officer) for driving under the influence (DUI). Beside Marquette, his mother (Rea Price) and brother (Ronald Frye) also were arrested by the police for preventing arrest of Marquette. After this, many people gathered in front of the police office and started demanding freedom of Frye’s family. In this situation, police and black communities of Watts, attempted to resolve the issue via a community meeting, but this attempt failed.

Later that day, Los Angeles police chief William H. Parker called for the assistance of the California Army National Guard. The riot intensified, on 13 August about 2,300 National Guardsmen joined the police in trying to maintain order on the streets and 14 August an additional 1,600 National Guardsmen had joined the efforts to quell the riots. About 31.000 – 35.000 citizens participated in the riots. Records show 34 dead, 1032 injured, 3438 arrests and over $40 million in property damage.

The root causes of these riots were unemployment, poor education and other inferior living conditions for African Americans, including police racism in Watts. After these events there were many discussions and debates on way forward to overcome these problems, many civil societies proposed suggestions, prepared projects including emergency literacy and pre-school programs, improved police-community ties, increased low-income housing, job-training projects, upgraded health-care services, more efficient public transportation, and many more. All good and nice, but the thing is none of these was realized.

As a result, Watts suffered further riots. Number of deadly accidents, violence against local population increased. Official authorities emphasized in their reports that there were about 500 homicides between 1989-2005.

Black Flight

In the beginning of 1970s African Americans began to leave Watts, while they preferred the south areas of Los-Angeles. This process was called as Black flight. They were replaced by Ethiopian, Indian, Mexican and Central American immigrants.

Watts Towers

Watts Towers (other name being Towers of Simon Rodia) is a collection of sculptural structures located in Simon Rodia State Historic Park in the Watts community. Tower was built in 33 years by Sabato Rodia, an Italian immigrant construction worker. Armatures of the structure are from steel and pieces of porcelain, tile and glass are embedded to armatures. They are decorated with architectural salvage items, including bottles, ceramic tiles, sea shells, figurines, mirrors, etc. Tower was constructed without use of any special equipment and didn't have a predetermined design. Rodia worked alone with hand tools.

A number of books and movies are trying to portray life of Rodia and construction of Towers. In 1957 short documentary movie named The Towers by William Hale was produced. Movie included voice records of Simon Rodia. But the most detailed documentary film about Simon Rodia and Watts Towers was shot in 2006 named as "I built the towers".

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