The 1965 Watts riots can be analyzed from different perspectives depending on someone’s personal viewpoints. Some considered it a rebellious act inspired by systematic racism that differentiated the 60’s youth from their ‘We shall Over Come’ peaceful protest-only minded elders, while others consider it a community that caused more damage to their neighborhoods than progressive help/change. These remarkable photos are in vivid color and captured by Life photographer Bill Ray (1936-2020) one year after the bloody and tragic Watts Riots events of 1965.
I remember hearing about the Watts Riots from my parents, whom did not share the same perspective on activism as their elders. Like other baby boomers who were youth in the late 60’s & early 70’s, their ‘icons’ were outspoken young activists like Fred Hampton, Stokley Carmichael, and Malcolm X. It was a time when positive empowering songs like James Brown’s ‘Say It Loud’ was being played on stations and the youth were becoming increasingly angry by the mistreatment they were continuously experiencing. I also recall seeing the 1993 movie Menace to Society, in which the main character Kane spoke about the infamous Watts Riots in the beginning of the movie, and how it changed the area permanently. At first I always wondered, ”why destroy the businesses and homes in your own neighborhood?” However, now I examine these unfortunate events from multiple viewpoints, and closely analyze the built-up intensity & frustration these youth were feeling leading up to the the Watts Riot.
I love these photos for several different reasons, partly because I am a history & vintage culture enthusiast. I look at photos like these and wonder what happen to the subjects. While analyzing the Watts Riots and the community’s transformation, I also think about the historic important neighborhoods in my native city Atlanta, like my father’s childhood on Troy Street. Before drugs like crack and crime infested the area & other communities across America, these historic areas were filled with families that shared a positive strong connection with their neighbors. There were constant random peaceful block parties with feel-good soulful music blasting throughout the community, neighborhood fish fry get-together’s full of laughter, kids safely riding their bikes outside and playing until the street lights came on, and just a different type of community-feel then what is present now.
Here are some interesting photos from Bill Ray’s Watts Riots Life Magazine collection.