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Watts: The Forgotten h m

more aware of Watts than the nice Germans were of


Belsen. For the highly paid techniGians at the Jet ProThirby-one dead, over 700 injured, 2,200 under arpulsion Lab, Watts might well be a n unnamed crater
rest, 1,000 ires,property damage of $200 millionon the moon. If the culture-conscious upper middle
such is the preliminary toll for -the long-weekend of
class, currently preoccupied with new music and art
rioting in the Watts area of Los Angeles. A feverish
centers, has heard of Watts at all it is probably as the
search for scapegoats is now under way and w
l
l
ino
site of thethree bizarre and oddly beautifulWatts
doubtcontinuethroughthe
1966 gubernatorial camTowers. Thisuniversalunawareness
of the squalor
paign. High on the scapegoat list is the self-righteous
and misery that is Watts has fostered the illusion not
Chief of Police who dismisses as a canard the charge
merely that Los Angeles is without a seriousrace
that the Los Angeles police could everbe guilty of
problem but that it is a much better city, in this rebrutality; apparently Chief P a k e r doesnt watch telespect, than Chicago (see p. 92) or New York which,
vision. Then there is S a m Yorty, the agile Mayor, playfor a time, was ,true. Arna Bontemps k d Jack Conroy
ing politlcal tricks as -always;. warnedof the possibility
found that Negro migrants had made a better adjustof riots, he did nothing. The list is long and includes
ment in Los Angeles than in any other American city,
The Heat-a favorite scapegoat in all race-riot investi-,
a circumstance they explained by suggesting that the
gations-and Social Condltipns.HereWattsqualifies
Japaneseand
Mexican-Americans
had
drawn
off
on all counts: dropouts, delinquency,, disease and demuch of the .racial hostilitywhichotherwisewould
pendency. But none ofthese social.factors alone or in
havekeenconcentratedagainst
Negroes (They Seek
combinamtion necessarily
race
riots2
actually
it
A City, p. ZOS), but this has longceased to be the case.
is when csonditions seem to-be improving-that the riots
, For a time, Negroes flocked h t o Los Angeles in the
usualry explode. Predictably ,the forthcoming inxestipost-1945
period, at the rate of 2,000, a month, mosl
gation ordered by Governor Brown will stress the same
of
them
looking
forbutnotfindmgdefense
job,s,
Oresome cliches : police brutality,inadequateleadermore
recently,
the
rate
dropped
to
about
1,000
a
ship, The Heat,%lum conditions.All lthe whle the truth
month.
watts
is
the
ghetto
of
the
migrants;
98
pen
about Watts is right ,therein front of people, in,plain
cent Negro, it has the highest population density
in
boldface type, for all t o read; so simple that it is inthe
country.
Ever
since
World
War
11,
the
Sun
(Francredible. The hatied and violence of race riots istrig:
gered by contempt, and of$1
forms of contempt the cisco Chronicle notes, Watts has been a little like a
pressure cooker. Of coFrse &ere is a lack of local
mostintolerable
is nonrecognitron, the general unleadership,most of-the residentsaremigrants.
,FoJawareness that a minority is festeringi n squalo:.: Until
lowing
the
Los
Angeles
pattern,
middle-class
Negroes
the riots be~gan, Watts had ,siinply been iorgotten
by
left .Watts years ago and today have~littledinect conthe encompassing white community.
tact with it. ,Moreover, by ignoring the existing midA sizable Negro community began to develop in Mud
dle-class
Negro leadership, the larger community has
Town, as Wattswas then cal1ed;gfter 1916; +e comundercut
,whatever
influencethlsleadershipmight
muqity later spxead dong Centrd Avenue with the
haye
exertedamong
Watts residents.
influx ,of d e m o migrants from the South which came
after World War I. In the 1920s, Waws was a wellTwo brief camexa shots suggest the reality of Watts.
known slum-the
unfading butt of bad jokes 6 y
In, one a large, cabmvoiced Negro paoently explained
cmnedians o n t,he Orpheum circuit. But it did exist;
to Governor Brown thatthelargercommunitywas
people knew about it. Arna Bontemps wrote a novel
always taking from Watts and not putting back, why,
about i t (God -Sends Sulzdng, 193,l);while Gilmore. be wanted to know, do tliey do us hke they do,? Inl
anotker shot,, a Negro told the #Governorthat the NeMdlen wrote a novel about the rise of CentralAvenue,
groes of Watts know how other people live; they
(Sweet M m z , 11392). For: the new residents of the I920s
watch television. They know, he, said, how much the
and 1930s, Wabts was a fact: perceived, studied (a
government is spending OM mlssiles and, things hke
Si$) and &derstood! (to someextent). But the big postthat_ They could, hardly not la~ow,llving in Southern1
World Wa< 1.I migration and! boom changed, all that.
Callforni,a. Only last fall, shortly before. the election,
Todaythere a~rethousands of newresidentswlm
have never seen Watts.They may have driven through, President Johnson: reminded the Californians th,at the
i t o r over-I* j r arounda-lt.but never t o d , nor have #.they governmenlt pours more than $2 billion amnua;ll;y into
ehe payrolls of the states aerospace mdnstries, most of
ever stoppedh-exeexcept
to change a tire. Actfully
it in Southem Cxlifornia. For a time the general boom!
isolaited from the- dlsagreeaETe,-the lzawte bourgeoisie
provided a measure of upward mobdlty even for Negro
of Brentwood; Bel-AirandBeveuly
Hills can shop;
residentsand thereby stimulafied, still further Negzo
lunch and play games for years bn end.mthout seeing
migrahon. But for the lasb year or so, new Negro
a Nepo- except: as a dome~stic. The, new middle class,:
migrants, have found themselves inareaslngly battled living in jerxy-built hly white subdiwisions, each with.
up in Watts with httle ixnmediate prospect of escape,
i t s own shapping-cemter, cambonestky claim $0 be do
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. while being bombarded day and night with images of


affluence, and constantly tempted by ,the well-stocked
shelves o l the supermarkets Even so, mxttersmight
have gone along as before, given a measure of insight
and recognition and understanding. Neglect can be
tolerated, discrimrnatron can be endured, but the contempt of indifference inflames,
NOW,at last, Watts has recovered Its social identity.
Those who say that the riots have set the civil rights
movement back-that they have lefit permanent scars,
etc.-ssimply do not know the history of big-city race
riots. The sad.fact is thatmost race riots have brought
some relief and Improvement in racerelationsand
the Los Angeles riots will not be an exceptlon.The
seeming ind~fferenceof the larger community is structural. Los Angeles is the city of sprawl. To sprawl is
to relax and feel comfortable. For most residents, Los
Angeles is a comfortable city, psychologically as well
as physically, because the unpleasant
can be kept in
Its place-at a safe distance from moat of the people.
By accident more than design, Los Angeles has been
organized tofurtherthegeneraltendency
toward
social indifference. The freeways have been carefully
designed to slum over and skirt around such eyesores
as Watts and portions
of East Los Angeles; even the
downbown section,aportion
of which has become a
shopping area for minorrtles, has, been partially bypassed. Now thatthe community knows onceagain
that Watts exists, i,t will begin to pay some attention
to its problems. Nothing could be more fatuous, therez
fore, ,than the suggestion advanced, most surprisingly
by Max Lerner amongothers, that the Los Angeles
riots were without a cause. Hatred never exists m a
vacuum, and violence of this sort is riever without a
cause.

If Watts lives in history it will be as the scene


of theriotsandthehome
of the Towers. The three
Watts Towers,whichhavedrawn
the p r a s e of drstmguished art critics, were built by Simon Rodia alone,
unaided, at his own expense, over a period of thirtythree years. He built the tovyers out of waste which
hehad
collected:broken
tiles, dishes, bolttles, over
70,000 sea,shells, bottle caps and whatnot. The walled
gardenfromwhichthetowersriseis
covered with
multicolored mosaics or with imprints of tools, hands,
corncobs and baskets, Out of this wastehe built three
structures of greatbeauty.Hebuiltthemwith
no
drawing-boarddesigns, machineequipmentorscaffolding: they were literallybuilt in the air. Rodia
was born in Rome and came to this country when he
was 12. A tile setter and telephone repairman, he settled in Watts and devoted most ,of his lifeto building
the towers which, when completed in 1954, he gave to
the city and his neighbors. I wanted lo do somethlng
for the United States, he said, because there are nice
people inthiscountry.
Whatever hisreasons,the
towers-and
the towers alone-redeem to some extent the ugliness and hatefulness of Watts, the slum
Los Angeles forgot. In 1959 Rodia left Watts, not to
return, a man of his quaint old-world social atfitudes

obviously did not belong in jet;age L O AngeIes.l~He


~
was reluctant to say why. If your mother dies :a<?
.,

you have loved her very much, he said: maybe ypu


don-tspeak of her. On July 21 he died in M+nezin Northern California-at the age of 90.- It is fitting
,that he died away from Watts and before the riats. - .

CAFLEY M~WILLIA@S
_,

Cat out of the Bag

__

,,

In a Meet the Press program on May 23 (se,e Nego:


tiate or Discuss," The Nation, June 7, p. Sol), Henry
Cab& Lodge made it quite clear that the Adrpin&tr$tlon was willing to discuss; but not necessaiily .hego-;
tiate, with the North Vietnmese. Pressed for clad%
cation, he added a further limitation: we wpuld not
really be wihng to negotiate -until a viab1.e &&ne Kad
firmly established its authority in South Vietnam., TGe:
effect of this diplomatic hedging was to ,mafe an .end
of the war even more remote thanit had been before.
This postponement has now, been :repea,ted,,with ,j&.
Lodge once more the spokesman. On July 27, yat:t?w
hearings .,oQ his
Senate Foreign Relations Committee
confirmation, Mr. Lodge was .quoted as saying that
we would insist on keeping forces in South Vietnam
even if a South Vietnamese government.reques,tedtheir
withdrawal.Thiscandid
reply dccasioned ,,the prkdictable flap, since it contradictedthemost,sacred
premise of our presence in Vietnam-that we were
there at the request of the South Vietnamese, people,
to defend them against the aggression of the Noith
Vietnamese, supported by ,the Chinese ,Reds. $he-Presi:
dent himself had to get into the resulting wringle&yet.
what Mr.Lodge had said. Mr. Lodge, and hie..were
agreed, the President said, on the underlying pririciple,
that in Vietnam we are there to help the people and
their government to help themselves. . , . The Uniied
States would never undertake the sacrificethege effortk
requestkd.
require if itshelp were notwantedand
did not e&&e
Mr. Lodge concurredbuthe
o n what he had actuallysaid,leaving
thesuspicion*
that it had been something tantamount, to what .,had
been reported. The Washington
Everting St&, ,wh!ch
had printed the alleged r e m a k , did not .back down:
Competent authority, i t said, confirmed its autheri:
ticity to the Stor. ,Then another high,official soughi
to clear matters up. What Mr. Lodge almoqt certa+dy
had in mind, he told Robert B. Semple of The New
York T i m e s (August 1 3 ) was that the United States
would not withdraw if asked to do so by aleft-wing
or even neutrdistgovernmentthat,
in the Ubited
States view, did not reflect the true
feelings of, the
South Vietnamese people or military leaders.
That is clarification of a sort, a i d i t m a k e s nonserise
out of the pretense of American altruism and solicitude for the people of V i e t n a h m a t other than:a
left-wing or neutralist government would requeht
American withdrawal? Who but the United St+tes-$ll
dkcide what are the true feelings of the South Vietnamese people? When will South Vietnamese @lit+ry
leaders not be willing and eager to interpret the t ~ e
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90

The NAdaxolu

feelings of the Vietnamese people to American militaky and ,political leaders?


One would have to searchlong i n the annals of
America11 diplomacy to fmd more devious excuses for
a war than those we are now being offered to cover
up our aims. in Asia The Administration feels it cannot say that we are in South Vietnam to contain the
expansion of Chinese power, as (Charles J. V. Murphy
explans candidly in the August Fort&. That admissiop on the part cf the Administratlon would give rise
to anembarrassing question: by, what right do we involve South Vietnamese civiliand,m what is essentially
a power struggle with our real adversary? The truth,
as Albert J. Guerard wrote in a letter to the Snn Francisco Clzl.onicZe, is that we are m ( a ) a war to contain
communism; (b ) a war to prevent any shrinkage of
$American power; ( c ) a war to prove, agan, that might
makes right. Mr. Lodge and his apologists have said
asmuch, butserved it up undera thick layer of obfuscation and hypocrisy.

Wrong-Way Johnson
As things are going, the President is in a air way
to acquire the appellation of a famous aviator who flew
solo across the Atlantic on a clearance to fly west from
New Yoric. According to journalistic gossip, some of
ivhich.apparentlyleakedfromPresidentlalconferences with members of Congress, the President is now
ieally anxious to find a way out oE the trap into which
hewalked ,when he began expanding the war in Vietnam, Sar beyond anything contemplated by Presidents
Eisenhower and Kennedy. (President Eisenhower has
since politely disavowed the intentions President Johnson ascribed to him on the basis of a 1954 letter from
Eisenhower to Ngo Dinh Diem.) The scuttlebutt
now
circulating has Mr. Johnson saymg, in effect, that the
War hawks must dehver the goods by February, 1966,
or else. That date is supposed to inaugurate the 1966
Congressional campaign, and Mr. Johnson 1s probably
aware that q another six months the war will either
have been won or it will have become exceedingly unpopular, not only abroad but among American voters.
. WithAmericanair
power thrown h l l y mtothe
scales, a partial suppression of Vietcong activity is not
to,be ruled out. It might
be sufficient to be represented
hs .a victory, at least for the time beiag. But suppose
the stalemate continues or, worse, that-the North Vietnamese. and the Chinese Reds keep pace with our escalations so. effectively that they seem to be getting the
b-tter of it? An inkling of what wlll then develop is
contained -in. the rh-etorical question of Chairman L.
Mepdel Rivers of the House Armed Services Committee ; m should^ we use our atornlc power to wipe out Red
cChlqnasatomic capability? Tmo which Mr. Rivers predictable ,,answer was-, We must get ready to do this
very t h p g if we want to stop Red Chma. I will insist
oh vptory in Vietnam. Anything short
of that would
b
~ treasonable.
,
.
16 ii harder for Mr Johnson to find a,way out of
h k dilimma now than it was six moaths ago. It wiIl
j

:AGgz& $O?lSGS

be harder six months hence. In Mr. -Rivers declaratloa,colltalningthemostpotentpoliticalaccusatibn


in the Americanvocabulary,Mr.Johnson
may read
the handwriting on the wall.

ter-TOO Little and TOSMuch


It is ironic that old-fashioned water wars of the kind
the West has lived with for the last century and a half
should now be breaking out i n the effete and sophisticated East. Just when the Western states have
achieved
a degree ,of amity in sharing water-and even Arizona
and Cahfornia are n o longer threatening to call up the
troops along the Colorado River-Pennsylvania, +New
Jersey and New York are eyeing one another belligerently over the waters of the Delaware basin. And this
absuqd, yet deadly serious,situationis
developing
underthree relatively enlightened go,vernors-Rockefeller of New York, Hughes of New Jersey, and Scran:
ton of Pennsylvania,withSecretary
of theInterior
)Stewart L. Udal1 announcmg that theNew York metro.
polltan area, with its 20 milhon inhabitants, is walking on the edge of disaster.
The basic reason for all this anxiety and interstate
hostility is lack of foresight-and
laissez faire, based
on the notion that private advantage and the
public
welfare are one and the same. In New York City the
policy has been to get thebestwateravailable,which
came from relatively smallstreamslikethe
Croton
River, the Esopus and Schoharie in the Catskllls, and
the upper reaches of the Delaware. This passion
for
pure upland water was momentarily
compromised in
a previous drought by the construction of a pumping
stabon on the Hudson below Poughkeepsie, but when
that emergency passed the equipment was dismantled
and the building razed. Yet there was some basis for
this decision-it was only 75 per cent folly. The Hudson is little betterthan an open sewer for communities
and industry. The cheapest way to get rid of waste is
to pour it into the- nearest stream, and that is what
ruggedindlvidualists do, whetherthestream
is the
Hudson or t h e Rhine.Nevertheless,with
treatment
the water would be potable, and the record shows how
shortsighted the engineers and pohticians have been.
Thesame myopic attitudeis exhibitedwhen
the
disastrous
trcuhle is an excess of water.Duringthe
spring floods onthe Mississippi, anofficial of the
United Auto Workers, Robert Johnston of Chicago, revived the idea of a National Water Resources Commission. He wondered why the Tennessee Valley Authority had n o t been duplicated in the other great river
basins of the, nation. Flood-control installations have
been made elsewhere, but the full integration of flood
control, power generation,navigationandrecreation
ill TVA remalns an isolated case. The privately owned
power companlesarehostile
to suchventures;the
more successful they are, the more they are likely
to
be brandedas
socmlism. Why doesnt the Great;
Society, admittedly modeled onthe New Deal, seek
to duplicate, in h d f a dozen river valleys, the New
Deals greatestsocialachievement,whichwas
TVA?
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