Watch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Address Los Angeles After The Watts Riots
In August 1965, allegations of police brutality against a black man who was pulled over in Watts for drunk driving sparked six days of violent protests throughout South L.A. The Watts Riots rattled not only the city, but the entire country. As Angelenos (and Americans) watched the city burn, Dr. Martin Luther King arrived in L.A. to hold a press conference on the chaotic scene.
"Let me say, first of all, that I profoundly deplore the events that have occurred in Los Angeles in these last few tragic days," King said during the August 17, 1965, press conference—the footage of which is preserved by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. "I believe, and have said on many occasions, that violence is not the answer to social conflict whether it is engaged in by white people in Alabama or by Negroes in Los Angeles. Violence is all the more regrettable in this period in light of the tremendous non-violent sacrifices that both Negro and white people together have endured to bring justice to all men."
King's voice of reason echoes through to today, over 50 years later, in an age where not much has seemed to change in race relations, conditions for minority communities, and leadership at the local and national level (even more so after January 20).
"Surely, if millions of Negroes across the country are dismayed, deeply hurt, and bewildered by the past few days, it stands to reason that our white friends are also," King added. "The strength of the Negro-white alliance for justice will be maintained only if we are in constant dialogue, understanding past mistakes, evolving new programs, and providing ways and means to avert any such recurrence of violence." (Hear that President-elect?)
King continued, "...I would like to work with the local leadership of Los Angeles in proposing programs for the eradication of those problems relating to housing, schools, jobs, and police behaviour that were directly or indirectly related to the disorder." (Man, 1965 Los Angeles had problems unrecognizable to today's Los Angeles.)
Today, as we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us remember the tremendous non-violent sacrifices Dr. King made to advance equality in this country, and the final sacrifice he made in the most violent and tragic manner.