We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What Was the Watts Rebellion?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
America Explained is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At America Explained, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject-matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

In August 1965, the primarily black Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts experienced six days of violent protests and police brutality which came to be known as the Watts Rebellion. The Watts Rebellion marked a major turning point in the growing civil rights movement, adding fuel to the fire of radical activism and stimulating serious discussion and debate in Los Angeles and beyond. This event in Los Angeles history continues to be a topic of discussion, especially when racially charged events such as the Rodney King beating make the news.

Constructing the history of the Watts Rebellion is complex, thanks to the assortment of conflicting reports from the time about the riots, their cause, and those involved. Most historians generally agree that the Watts Rebellion didn't come out of nowhere, however; by August 1965, the region was a powder keg charged to explode. In the preceding months, the community in Watts had witnessed a variety of police shootings, beatings, and other events which they maintained were unprovoked, and they were starting to get very angry.

The catalyst for the Watts Rebellion was the decision of a California Highway Patrol officer to pull over a car because he suspected that the driver was drunk. The scene attracted attention as the officer dealt with the occupants in the car, ultimately refusing to let the driver's brother take over, and radioing for a tow truck to come and impound the car. The gathering crowd grew increasingly restive and angry until people ultimately started throwing rocks and other objects at the police, and the Watts riots commenced.

Over the course of six days, the population of Watts stormed the streets, attacking policemen and white motorists while looting buildings, setting fire to homes and businesses, and obstructing safety personnel like nurses and firemen. The Los Angeles police grew increasingly violent in response, arresting thousands, opening fire on demonstrators, and mercilessly beating participants in the Watts Rebellion along with innocent bystanders. Hospitals quickly became choked with the injured, while the police ran out of room for their prisoners.

It took a deployment of the California National Guard to quell the Watts riots, which ended with millions of dollars of damage and 34 dead, along with over 1,000 injured. The events of the Watts Rebellion were sobering for Californians and Americans in general, illustrating the extremely volatile mood in urban black neighborhoods and setting the stage for the coming years of the civil rights struggle.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By TreeMan — On Oct 08, 2011

@kentuckycat - You are absolutely correct. Whenever there is a riot that is racially motivated it is a black eye on the cities history and is basically impossible to shake. People associate racism with the problems that caused people to revolt and this is reflective on the way things are in the city. Because of this people studying the city's history assume that it must have been a really racist, bad situation at the time and that their city may not have been a very happy place to live.

I used to live in St. Louis and they still talk about the race riot that occurred there in 1917 and I have also lived in Chicago and besides gangsters like Al Capone the worst things that are talked about in schools involved the race riot Red Summer, which may be the worst in American history.

Instances like these never reflect well on a city's history and it is unfortunate, but must be studied in order to get an idea of the past so we can learn from it and move on.

By matthewc23 — On Oct 08, 2011

I like how whenever there is a riot of some sort there is a catalyst that is always involved that does not necessarily have much significance to the problems at hand.

With the Watts rebellion it seemed like it was a simple traffic stop with racial motives involved. Because there were a lot of people that did not like what they saw and they had all this pent up racial tension they just naturally reacted and revolted against what they saw as the symbol of their oppressors, the police officers.

In any riot a catalyst must happen in order for it to gain steam and it can be something complex and significant or it can be something as simple as a single routine act that is seen as unfair by those who are frustrated with the situations they are forced to live in.

By kentuckycat — On Oct 07, 2011

@stl156 - I have to agree with you about the Watts rebellion and its relation to the Civil Rights movement. I have studied various other race riots, such as Red Summer in Chicago in 1919 and the East St. Louis race riot in 1917 and riots like these happen in very racially charged areas and the Watts riot is no different, except that it occurred during the Civil Rights movement.

I see the Watts riot as being similar to the race riots in 1968 in Detroit in that people were sick of all the racism and the way the police were treating blacks in the area and eventually revolted because of something they did not like.

Instances like these are usually black eyes on the cities history and are very hard to shake away.

By stl156 — On Oct 06, 2011

The Watts rebellion is similar to any other race riot that has occurred in this country. Throughout the 20th century there were several riots that were similar to the Watts rebellion and was simply a case of built up racially charged tension that eventually spilled over into a full scale riot.

Although the Watts rebellion can be connected to the Civil Rights movement it is no different than various other riots that occurred throughout the 20th century. All had similar circumstances and the much needed catalyst that caused all the frustrations to come out in a very violent outburst.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

America Explained, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.