Residents and community leaders gathered in dance, song and prayer outside a South Los Angeles church Saturday to reflect as the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots approaches.
One of the largest rebellions of the Civil Rights period, the riots started in August 1965 after Marquette Frye was arrested in Watts on suspicion of drunk driving by a white California Highway Patrol officer. The unrest that followed caused more than $40 million in property damage.
Congresswoman Maxine Waters was one of the community leaders who attended the community block party dubbed Watts: Through the Fire at Village Missionary Baptist Church.
"We are celebrating that we have survived," she said.
Jarrette Fellows Jr., the editor and publisher of the Compton Herald, was 12 years old at the time of the riots. He recalls hearing the explosions and police helicopters overhead, but said he wasn't aware of the size and scope of the issue at the time.
"The day after, when we got to go outside and walk the streets and 103rd Street was totally burned down, that was the worst zone, something I'd never seen before," Fellows said. "And as a 12 year old, that shocked my senses. Everything was gone."
Thousands of California National Guard troops were called into the area and a curfew zone over a 45 mile area was implemented.
The riots resulted in 34 deaths, more than 1,000 injuries and nearly 4,000 arrests. An investigation launched by then-Gov. Pat Brown showed that the riots were the result of the community's dissatisfaction with unemployment rates, housing and education issues, along with racial tensions with the police.
Fellows said the Watts riots were the worst he had ever seen until the Rodney King riots in 1992.