Archival Resources Related to the 1965 Watts Riots

Posted by Nathan Masters

This August 11-16 marks the 50th anniversary of the Watts riots, which broke out on the streets of Los Angeles in the summer of 1965. The USC Libraries are home to several unique archival collections that document the riots, their causes, and their aftermath.

Eight days after the rioting subsided, leaving 34 people dead and more than 1,000 injured, Governor Edmund G. "Pat" Brown empaneled a commission to study the riots. Chaired by former CIA director John McCone, the commission and its staff interviewed several hundred witnesses, including residents, community leaders, law enforcemenet officers, and government officials. On December 2, 1965, the McCone Commission released its report, titled Violence in the City: an End or a Beginning? That report and its supporting documentation, including transcripts of the witnesses' testimony, form the USC Libraries' Watts Riots records.

Soon after the release of the McCone Commission's report, Kendall Price of the USC School of Administration spearheaded a review of the commission's findings and its perceived shortcomings. Working with a nonprofit named Public Executive Development and Research, Price and his colleagues organized two seminars and a conference about the riots and USC's relations with L.A.'s African-American community, resulting in a new report titled Critique of the Governor's Commission on the Los Angeles Riots. Price later donated his documentation of the sessions to the USC Libraries, where they are preserved as the Price Los Angeles Riots records. The collection includes the Critique report as well as audio recordings of the conference.

The USC Libraries also preserve the records of the Christopher and Webster commissions, which studied law enforcement practices and culture in the wake of the 1991 Rodney King beating and the ensuing 1992 riots.

For more information about these collections and others, or to make an appointment to consult them, email specol@usc.edu or call the Special Collections reference desk at 213-740-5900.