The Uprising Marches On

Writers Have a Duty Not to Exaggerate Racial Progress

In an era where even the simplest truths are under attack, it’s up to writers to remind us that systemic racism never really goes away

Mychal Denzel Smith
GEN
Published in
5 min readAug 24, 2020

--

Photo illustration. Sources: Brooke Fasani Auchincloss, Robert Abbott Sengstacke/Getty Images

This piece is part of The Uprising Marches On, a package on what’s next for the movement for Black lives.

It was just over 55 years ago, on August 11, 1965, when 21-year-old Marquette Frye was pulled over by a California Highway Patrol officer in the Watts section of Los Angeles for alleged reckless driving. The motorcycle officer, Lee Minkus, reportedly smelled alcohol on Frye’s breath and administered a field sobriety test which he determined Frye failed. Minkus placed the young man under arrest and radioed for backup and a transport car as a small crowd gathered. Up to this point, as far as police interactions with Black people go, the whole thing was as agreeable as possible.

It wasn’t until Minkus’ backup arrived that things went awry. Frye’s mother had shown up — it was her Buick that he was driving, with his brother, Ronald, in the passenger seat — and was upset both that her car was being towed and that Frye had been drinking and driving. Frye grew erratic and yelled, “Those motherfucking cops ain’t going to take me to jail!” The small, jovial crowd that was there initially had grown in size and hostility. Minkus and another patrolman grabbed their batons, while yet another pulled out his shotgun. More police officers arrived on the scene, one of whom eventually struck Frye in the forehead.

And so began what we now refer to as the Watts Riots/Watts Uprising/Watts Rebellion, a six-day violent confrontation between Black residents of Los Angeles and the police. At least 34 people died, a thousand more were injured, and 4,000 were arrested, while over 200 buildings within a 50-square-mile area were destroyed or burned, resulting in $200 million in property damage. Fourteen thousand national guard troops…

--

--

Mychal Denzel Smith
GEN
Writer for

Mychal Denzel Smith is the author of the New York Times bestseller Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching (2016) and Stakes Is High (2020).