Aug 1, 2005
August 11 marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of the Watts rebellion, which was concentrated in the South Central part of Los Angeles. Watts marked a turning point in the black movement, as urban revolts began to sweep through the big industrial cities of the North and West – that is, the very centers of political and economic power.
The rebellion, which lasted six days, took its toll: 34 people killed, 1000 wounded and tens of millions in property damage. And this is what officials of every stripe point out. But the fact is, the rebellion made possible important gains and breakthroughs for the first time in U.S. history. It forced industry to open up jobs that had previously been closed to black workers, especially in better-paid heavy industry, such as aircraft, steel and auto. Lockheed even built an aircraft factory near Watts. It backed off police who had been used to terrorizing black neighborhoods. It also forced the government to fork over money to provide vital social services. For example, not one major hospital served South Central Los Angeles. Suddenly, after 1965, L.A. County quickly built one, which was later named after Martin Luther King, along with a medical school.
The movement, of which the Watts rebellion was one of the key battles, never was able to develop to the point that it could throw out the power structure responsible for the exploitation and oppression that underlies the 400 years of racism of this society. By the early 1970s, the movement began to recede, thus allowing the ruling class to return to the offensive, and begin to take back some of the gains it had been forced to give up. During the recession of the early 1990s, Lockheed closed its plant in Watts. And now the county government is in the feeling-out stage that could very well lead to the closing of Martin Luther King Hospital, a hospital that is already very poorly funded and run, but that is still vital to the health of the hundreds of thousands of people, mainly working class and poor, who depend on it.
In other words, the promise that the Watts rebellion ushered in remains to be fulfilled.