When Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager set
to start college, was shot by a police officer on August 9,
setting off over six weeks of racial unrest, some asked,
“Could Ferguson happen here?”
Those of us with longer memories (otherwise known
as old people) know it already did—nearly five decades
The Watts Riots were triggered when a young black
motorist was pulled over and arrested by a white
California Highway Patrolman on August 11, 1965, on
suspicion of drunk driving. The six-day upheaval
resulted in 34 deaths, more than 3,400 arrests and
tens of millions of dollars in property damage.
My husband Frank and I had just learned that our
college journalism department in Texas was closing.
We'd decided to move from Abilene, TX to Los Angeles,
CA to attend Pepperdine University, where they had a
Just before we struck out, we heard the news of the
riots. Friends, relatives—even strangers—warned us
not to go. But we already had overcome many
obstacles in our short life together, and we were eager
to be in the big city. Besides, it was so big, what were
the odds that we’d be anywhere near Watts?
We drove halfway across the country with the leg of an
ironing board pressing into my back When we finally
pulled up to the guard gate on campus, the guard
surprised us with the news that the campus was still
under curfew from the riots. It didn’t matter that we were
grown and independent and married and had just
driven halfway across the country. We had to be in by
We were students at a predominantly white college in
the middle of a predominantly black neighborhood just
after the worst race riots in the history of L.A. We
learned a lot about race relations in a very short time.
According to USC law professor Jody Armour, an expert
in crime and race issues, “those same class issues,
that same sense of racial inequality, social inequality,
economic inequality, those same frustrations and
resentments that roiled 49 years ago and exploded in the
Watts riots are still in effect in 2014.
"We see them bursting out in Ferguson, MO, rather than LA.
Since those same conditions still exist in areas like South Los
Angeles, Watts, Inglewood and Compton," Armour said, “We
could be the next Ferguson.”
Our family lived in South LA from 1965 until 1977, and I taught
classes at the Vermont Avenue church for 30 years. Until I
moved to the Culver Palms church in 1995, we were often the
only white people in the room—sometimes the only white
family living within miles.
All that time, I was trying to encourage integration. I wanted to
show people that we could get along, that we could live
together in the same neighborhood, attend the same school
and worship and serve together in the same church.
For years, it would seem to be happening, but there was
always a tipping point where there were just enough black
people to make the whites so nervous that they moved away.
White flight, we called it, and I experienced it as a personal
In Culver City, I’ve found something more like what I’d hoped
to achieve in South Los Angeles, real cultural diversity. And
when we finally elected our first black president, I thought we’d
finally caught on. All people really were created equal. Our
government was of, for and by all the people. We really could
all get along.
Ferguson brought me back down to earth. Déjà vu all over
Other articles in this issue include "To Protect and Serve"
about the part police play in racism; "Representative
Democracy" about the lack of representation some people still
experience; and "Overcoming Race Problems," practical
suggestions for needed changes.
I hope you'll write me at email@example.com about this
website, especially if you have alternate views and
Race relations is a problem that will require all our best efforts
to overcome--as well as honesty, kindness and a sincere
desire to see our nation work for all its people.
An eclectic website about Women, Christianity, History, Culture and
the Arts--and anything else that comes to mind.
Michael Brown (above) was killed by police in Ferguson, MO.