Note #27 Jazz is not always Black & White…Part 1

Life Magazinre Watts Riot Cover Story photo       For the moment, the jazz is playing; there is no melody, just notes, a myriad tiny tremors. The notes know no rest, an inflexible order gives birth to them then destroys them, without ever leaving them the chance to recuperate and exist for themselves…. I would like to hold them back, but I know that, if I succeeded in stopping one, there would only remain in my hand a corrupt and languishing sound. I must accept their death; I must even want that death: I know of few more bitter or intense impressions.  ~ Jean-Paul Sartre


It is 7:00 pm on a very warm summer evening on Wednesday, August 11th, 1965.  We all are watching the news when all of a sudden the news broadcast was interrupted announcing… This just in a California Highway Patrolman Lee W. Minikus, a Caucasian, was riding his motorcycle along 122nd street, just south of the Los Angeles City boundary, when a passing Negro motorist told him he had just seen a car that was being driven recklessly. Minikus gave chase and pulled the car over at 116th and Avalon, in a predominantly Negro neighborhood, near but not in Watts. It was 7: 00 p.m.

The driver was Marquette Frye, a 21-year-old Negro, and his older brother, Ronald, 22, was a passenger. Minikus asked Marquette to get out and take the standard Highway Patrol sobriety test. Frye failed the test, and at 7:05 p.m., Minikus told him he was under arrest. He radioed for his motorcycle partner, for a car to take Marquette to jail, and a tow truck to take the car away.

They were two blocks from the Frye home, in an area of two-story apartment buildings and numerous small family residences. Because it was a very warm evening, many of the residents were outside. 

Ronald Frye, having been told he could not take the car when Marquette was taken to jail, went to get their mother so that she could claim the car. They returned to the scene about 7:15 p.m. as the second motorcycle patrolman, the patrol car, and tow truck arrived. The original group of 25 to 50 curious spectators had grown to 250 to 300 persons.  Dad turned the volume down …this is not going to end well.  I am sure that a riot is going to break out and will escalate until its devastated effects will be realized.  Your mom and I have shielded you from the ugliest side of racism.  The screen had an alert began flashing and the anchorman reading a bulletin… The Emergency Control Center at Police Headquarters – a specially outfitted command post – was opened at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. That day, one hundred and ninety deputy sheriffs were asked for and assigned. Between 6:45 and 7:15 p.m., crowds at the scene of the trouble of the night before had grown to more than 1,000. Firemen who came into the area to fight fires in three overturned automobiles were shot at and bombarded with rocks. The first fire in a commercial establishment was set only one block from the location of the Frye arrests, and police had to hold back rioters as firemen fought the blaze. Shortly before midnight, rock-throwing and looting crowds for the first time ranged outside the perimeter. Five hundred police officers, deputy sheriffs and highway patrolmen used various techniques, including fender-to-fender sweeps by police cars, in seeking to disperse the mob. By 4:00 a.m. Friday, the police department felt that the situation was at least for the moment under control. At 5:09 a.m., officers were withdrawn from emergency perimeter control. 


We watched in horror the feeling of hatred and violence is now sitting in our family room.  I am so sleepy that I stood up mommy and daddy I am going to bed.  Promise me that we are going to be safe.  My father muted the sound holding his arms open, I ran to him and my mom for a hug.  He whispered, do you remember when we were driving cross-country last summer to see Grandma and Grandpa in New York and when we were in Arizona the man tried to run us off the road?  Nodding yes, I protected us then with my army issued rifle and everything turned out fine, right?  I will always protect you, that’s always going to be my promise to you all.  Good night honey, we will talk in the morning…I climbed the stairs to my room, in the darkness I lay awake searching for serenity and comfort.  Flashbacks of  squatting on the floor of the backseat of our ’64 Ford Torino station wagon hanging on and being jolted because the driver in the other car was side swiping us and trying to move out of the way so dad could get is rifle.  Tears staining my pillow I fell asleep afraid to dream and feeling the worst is yet to come.  It would be the longest three days…Pease Out!