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The Watts Riots, Burned Into Memory -- Roger Wilkins replies (or tries) to John McWhorter
Washington Post ^ | August 23, 2005 | Roger Wilkins

Posted on 08/25/2005 2:56:18 PM PDT by nicollo

John McWhorter is right to say that we ought to pause and remember the Watts riots of 40 years ago and ponder their implication for America's present and future ["Burned, Baby, Burned..." FR post here]. I take strong issue, however, with the conclusions he draws from his review of the events in Watts and South Central Los Angeles in 1965.

I think the difference between McWhorter and me arises in large measure from our profoundly different perspectives on the event. He writes that he was born two months after the riots occurred and that his conclusions are based on his research on the subject. Mine are based largely on what I learned when President Lyndon B. Johnson sent me to Watts 40 years ago this month as a part of two federal teams -- one headed by former Florida governor LeRoy Collins and the next by then-deputy attorney general Ramsey Clark -- both charged with helping to end the violence and figuring out what had caused it.

McWhorter dismisses the conventional wisdom that the riots occurred because of the miserable conditions in the bleakest ghettos of what was then America's most glamorous city, and he notes that "the National Urban League had rated Los Angeles the best city in the nation for blacks to live in." That might have been true of Crenshaw or other upscale black neighborhoods, but not of South Central and Watts. In one community meeting I arranged for Collins and two others I set up for Clark, the bitterness and anguish laced through the testimony of poor neighborhood residents were heart-rending and, when they spoke of the city's neglect, just cause for indignation.

The police were brutal; there were no jobs anywhere near the neighborhoods...

---- snip ----

(Excerpt) Read more at washingtonpost.com ...


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Government
KEYWORDS: 1960s; blackpanther; blackpanthers; burnbabyburn; davidhilliard; failedliberalism; foundation; greatsociety; hotsauce; johnmcwhorter; race; riots; rogerwilkins; sell; urbanbarbarians; wattsriots
I respect Roger Wilkins. If anything he's an honest historian. On this one, he's wrong. As an historian, he ought to recognize that his own personal experience with the riots limits his historical view of it. McWhorter's detachment is a benefit, not a liability to the historian. Besides, Wilkins admits that his own entry to the episode came after the fact, and fully into the riots themselves. He starts wrong.

Wilkins lays the riots to:

The police were brutal; there were no jobs anywhere near the neighborhoods; public transportation was unreliable and inadequate; the schools were atrocious; housing was deteriorating; health care facilities were far away, limited and hard to get to. And worst of all, nobody cared enough to come and listen to their complaints.

Sadly, Prof. Wilkins read McWhorter's words but not his meaning. Of Prof. McWhorter's views on Watts, Wilkins says,

He thinks the energy from that explosion was appropriated by radical reformers lobbying for changes in welfare that ultimately destroyed the moral fiber of poor people and led to the inner-city desolation we experience today.

Yes, Wilkins, that's exactly what he thinks, and you put it so lucidly. But you can't bring yourself to believe it. So sad. Where Wilkins sees so much history in the abuse and sorry condition of American blacks exploding into the Riots, McWhorter sees the proper way out of it -- and that exit denied by the hijackers of the Civil Rights movement.

I was amazed the the (com)Post published McWhorter's article. I see now that, by bringing out the Big Gun, Wilkins, they scared themselves by it.

1 posted on 08/25/2005 2:56:19 PM PDT by nicollo
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To: nicollo
Sooner or later L.A. will have an earthquake ten times more serious than the 1994 Northridge quake.

Will there be widespread disorder and looting and murder in the inner city after the 'big one'?
2 posted on 08/25/2005 3:02:04 PM PDT by BenLurkin (O beautiful for patriot dream - that sees beyond the years)
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To: nicollo
Remember when rioters during a black out referred to it as an Act of God to excuse their behavior?
3 posted on 08/25/2005 3:23:54 PM PDT by ncountylee (Dead terrorists smell like victory)
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To: BenLurkin

Good point. Of course, yes. The excuse... well, they'll have to come up with a new one. Could they blame it on God? Nah. Bush's fault...


4 posted on 08/25/2005 3:27:45 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: ncountylee

"...act of God" -- oops, you already answered it. I didn't know about that, thanks.


5 posted on 08/25/2005 3:28:34 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: BenLurkin
I used to live in LA before moving back to the East Coast. We watched the "Rodney King" LA riots on TV. We watched the cops running away rather than confronting the rioters. My friends in LA told me that riots had gotten to within a few blocks of where I had lived. My wife bought me my first firearm shortly thereafter.

Any middle-class resident of LA (or anyplace else in the US) who doesn't own firearms, is a fool

6 posted on 08/25/2005 3:30:28 PM PDT by SauronOfMordor
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To: SauronOfMordor

What do you suppose is the Korean merchant gun ownership these days...?


7 posted on 08/25/2005 3:31:15 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: nicollo

Since I don't know many Koreans who are utter fools, I would expect it to be well over 90+%


8 posted on 08/25/2005 3:33:25 PM PDT by SauronOfMordor
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To: nicollo

bookmark


9 posted on 08/25/2005 3:36:27 PM PDT by Alia
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To: nicollo
This argument between McWhorter and Wilkins goes way back. It's a matter of assuming core American principles, as does McWhorter, or defying them, even if in protest, as does Wilkins. Check this out from Booker T. Washington, this from 1897 (with apologies for the contemporaneous, 1890s language):

....

I have no idea how either McWhorter or Wilkins view Booker T. Maybe someone knows. He set the argument long, long ago.

10 posted on 08/25/2005 3:38:41 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: Borges; Alexander Rubin; CondorFlight; ladyjane; Poopyhead; jim_trent; 185JHP

Pinging folks from the original McWhorter thread.


11 posted on 08/25/2005 3:42:59 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: Alia

Nice to see you again. Glad you found this thread of use.


12 posted on 08/25/2005 3:43:36 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: nicollo

Watts riots made as much sense as self-neutering.

Come to think of it - that is the perfect description of what they did to themselves.


13 posted on 08/25/2005 3:59:10 PM PDT by hombre_sincero (www.sigmaitsys.com)
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To: x; LS
Thought you guys might be interested in this debate between McWhorter and Wilkins.

Btw, I have a some great period news articles on Booker T. and W.E.B. (who was amazingly conservative in his early publications). I'm ever fascinated by race and the progressive period. I don't think anyone understands it. I sure don't, although I'm quite certain that no one else does, either, no matter how much they think they do... Here are two fascinating articles by Booker Washington and WEB Du Bois that appeared in the NY Times in 1909, in anticipation of the 50th anniversaries of the Civil War:

Negro Four Years Hence: Booker T. Washington Takes Look Ahead

Fifty Years Among Black Folks: Prof. Dubois Tells of Evolution of the Negro

Warning: PDF files!
14 posted on 08/25/2005 4:05:26 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: nicollo

Good to see you too! :) You put together a good comparative analysis, Nicollo. I added some keywords.


15 posted on 08/25/2005 4:06:18 PM PDT by Alia
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To: Alia

Your keywords: awesome! "Hot sauce" -- LOL!!!


16 posted on 08/25/2005 4:14:48 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: BenLurkin

>>>>Yes, Wilkins, that's exactly what he thinks, and you put it so lucidly.


It's easier to be lucid with the truth than with fiction.


17 posted on 08/25/2005 4:36:57 PM PDT by .cnI redruM (Congratulations to The Framers of The Iraqi Constitution!!)
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To: nicollo

Washington's view was that blacks couldn't indefinitely rely on the whims of whites, either to protect them or to ensure their economic stability. Through education---especially farming and technical education---he thought blacks could become self-sufficient until white society accepted them.


18 posted on 08/25/2005 5:08:24 PM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of news)
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To: BurbankKarl; All

"Rivers of Blood, Years of Darkness" right betwen my Serpico book and the Zodiac Killer book.


19 posted on 08/25/2005 5:35:06 PM PDT by Cindy
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To: nicollo

Those aren't my specific keywords; but they were on similar threads concerning this topic and thereabouts. BURNBABYBURN -- the hotsauce being marketed by Black Panthers is one of my keywords.


20 posted on 08/25/2005 5:35:19 PM PDT by Alia
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To: nicollo
A lot has to do with perceptions or "frames of reference." If you were Black in Birmingham or Jackson or Selma in 1965, you pretty much expected nothing from the police or local government or White society. If you lived in a Northern city like Detroit or Philadelphia your expectations would be higher: you had the vote, and politicians and the police ought to give your concerns the same respect as those of other citizens. If you lived in Los Angeles or Oakland, your expectations were higher still, and not so very different from those of local Whites. The different environment has a lot to do with what happened. Whether you want to attribute it to specific people or the times or the culture of the place is up to you.

I don't think Watts was the first riot of its kind. While the earliest race riots involved Whites attacking Blacks, Harlem had already seen disturbances of the sort that erupted in Los Angeles in 1965. The problem with debates about deeper causes, is that the most relevant factor was the behavior of the police. In general, you don't need massive programs or large scale changes to prevent such riots. You just have to make sure the police are well-equipped to deal with disturbances and do their job fairly and effectively without sparking such outbreaks.

21 posted on 08/25/2005 5:49:49 PM PDT by x
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To: x
I like your review of expectations. Certainly so. When the team is down by 40 points in the 4th quarter, there's little hope. When they're down by 14, or 3, the fight is up, and the dissappointment all the worse if it doesn't work out. Still, that's no excuse.

See these:

NY Times headline search for "Harlem riots" (results = 1870-1974)

The Root of the Trouble (editorial, Jul 23, 1964)

The headlines show your list of riots, racial or otherwise, in Harlem over the years. In each, police behavior is cited as a cause, and, as far as I can tell from the survey of headlines, absolved in the specific in hearings and reviews. The '64 editorial gives that year's problems to, in ascending order of importance, radicals, police, and poverty. Call me naive, but I'm thinking that the role of the police is far more reactive than causal.

I think it all rather affirms McWhorter's view that the radicalization of the civil rights movement did nothing to resolve the crises, and that the crises were less drastic than presumed by apologists of the riots. Certaintly, everyone agrees that better economic conditions were the fundamental cure. McWhorter seems to say that that solution was well on the way prior to 1968, and was halted, so far as the inner city goes, by the welfare state. Wilkins punts when he takes on McWhorter on this point:

...And Watts and the explosions that followed helped fuel a conservative backlash that undermined the massive effort needed to address the problems it exposed.

The Watts legacy is not about tinkering with welfare policy. As the Kerner Commission warned us 2 1/2 years after the riots (a warning soon to be all but forgotten), the problem comes from a place deep inside the American soul. The profound damage done to unlucky blacks trapped in poverty and to whites trapped in indifference or bigotry will still require an enormous amount of sustained American will and decency to correct. That is the real legacy of Watts.
He's kidding himself. You think he could learn anything from Booker Washington?
22 posted on 08/25/2005 7:30:20 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: LS

Was Washington's a valid premise?


23 posted on 08/25/2005 7:31:11 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: nicollo

What do you mean? I may have answer but I don't understand what you mean by valid premise?


24 posted on 08/25/2005 7:33:30 PM PDT by cyborg (Hillary nixed in 2006!)
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To: cyborg
Sorry, my question related to LS's description of Washington's vision for the advance of his race. LS wrote,
Washington's view was that blacks couldn't indefinitely rely on the whims of whites, either to protect them or to ensure their economic stability. Through education---especially farming and technical education---he thought blacks could become self-sufficient until white society accepted them.

25 posted on 08/25/2005 7:47:10 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: nicollo

I agree with Washington and thought he had an interesting selection. Ex-slaves and their immediate relations would know something about farming and machinery, esp.farming so there was a base already. I'll have to give this thread a read through. That was an interesting newspaper you posted btw. Have you ever read Black Conservative by George Schuyler? Good stuff.


26 posted on 08/25/2005 7:50:57 PM PDT by cyborg (Hillary nixed in 2006!)
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To: cyborg
Black Conservative by George Schuyler

Haven't seen it. Goes on the list. Thanks!

27 posted on 08/25/2005 8:01:43 PM PDT by nicollo (All economics are politics.)
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To: nicollo

Marcus Garvey hated him with a passion. Kinda like Dick Gregory hates modern black conservatives. These exchanges are as old as the hills.


28 posted on 08/25/2005 8:08:08 PM PDT by cyborg (Hillary nixed in 2006!)
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To: nicollo

I can't recall what started the Watts riots. It was a hot summer and that's about all it takes to start a riot in L.A.


29 posted on 08/25/2005 8:25:33 PM PDT by lakey
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To: nicollo

Thanks for the ping.

Interesting read. I wonder what the final results of this debate will be. I suspect a liberal victory in the short term, a conservative victory in the long term. The only way for the blacks to raise themselves up is to teach their children to help themselves. And there's enough of them waking up to realize that, along with a few good conservative values people who've been there all along. Furthermore, the cultural attachment to religion (at least in the older individuals) I believe will ultimately serve the entire community very well.

I predict that the crisis of the family will deepen first within the black community, then begin to gradually improve over a period of two or three decades once the problem reaches critical mass.


30 posted on 08/25/2005 10:19:14 PM PDT by Alexander Rubin (Octavius - You make my heart glad building thus, as if Rome is to be eternal.)
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To: nicollo

Like any approach, it was partly correct. It was true that blacks could achieve some degree of economic equality without full political equality---but eventually, as long as there are laws on the books prohibiting groups of people from selling to other groups, prohibiting the renting to some groups, or frequenting the same establishments, not to mention the right of voting so that you can CHANGE those laws, no, economic achievement alone wasn't going to solve the blacks problems. King was right, too.


31 posted on 08/26/2005 5:47:19 AM PDT by LS (CNN is the Amtrak of news)
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