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Countdown to Watts

May 27, 2007 |  8:20 am

1957_0527_ucla 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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