Countdown to Watts

May 27, 1957
Los Angeles

In eight years, the city will explode in the Watts riots of August 1965 and white Los
Angeles will ask itself what happened.  Look, for instance, at how the
Mirror portrays integration at UCLA, which is held up as a model
program. (Except, for example, hints such as the orientation program for students from Africa and Asia about why they can’t find a place to live in Los Angeles).

But delve into the microfilm, fellow Caucasians, and read the Los
Angeles Sentinel and the California Eagle, two African American
weeklies. Even a brief scan of the black newspapers in 1957 reveals a
boiling cauldron of righteous anger:  Teachers cannot get jobs in many Los
Angeles County school districts because they are African American.
Black employees are laid off from skilled jobs at North American
Aviation and offered new positions–as janitors. Blacks picket local
stores that refuse to hire African Americans.

Worst of all, a subpoena of Police Chief William H. Parker in a series
of police brutality cases brought by the NAACP is ignored in a shameful
conspiracy of silence by the white media. In fact, the lone white
newsman to profile the situation, radio announcer Lew Irwin, is told that
his feature on the matter is being killed because it is "too controversial."

In the summer of 1957, eight years before the Watts riots, the Los
Angeles Sentinel ran a series titled: "Does Los Angeles Have a Negro
Leader?" The short answer was no.

History doesn’t get any uglier than this.

To be continued….

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
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