The United States experienced a series of urban riots in the 1960s during a time of major social change. Americans were concerned about their civil liberties and large numbers them played a part in protesting against the government and the police. The riots were the product of many issues, including government intimidation and the activism associated with the Civil Rights Movement. In this climate of widespread discontent in the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Americans also began organizing against the government in massive anti-war protests against the Vietnam War.
On May 13, 1960, during hearings in San Francisco conducted by the House Un-American Activities (HUAC), hundreds of university students blocked access to the hearings and were subsequently forced down a flight of stairs by police with fire hoses. There were a total of 68 people arrested for protesting and more than 30 were injured, but the charges against the protesters were later dropped.
The Watts Riot was the largest of the entire Civil Rights era in terms of injuries and destruction. The riot, which lasted for six days in Los Angeles beginning on Aug. 11, 1965, claimed the lives of 34 people and resulted in more than 1,000 reported injuries and 4,000 arrests. Property damage from acts such as burned grocery stores and overturned automobiles amounted to over $40 million from six days of rioting. California mobilized 14,000 troops from the California National Guard and issued a curfew to restore order. An official investigation by Gov. Pat Brown found that the African Americans in the poor Watts community in South Los Angeles were discontent because of high unemployment rates, poor housing and inadequate schools.
Detroit Riot of 1967
There was a riot in Detroit in 1967 when police officers raided a club located in a largely African-American neighborhood. After police arrested 82 people inside the club, a crowd began gathering outside. Violence erupted shortly with looting, fires and vandalism across Detroit. The National Guard was mobilized. The result of the five-day Detroit riot was 43 people dead, about 1,200 reported injuries and 7,000 arrests.
Newark Riot of 1967
The Newark Riot of 1967 began after the beating of a taxi driver who had been interrogated for driving around a double-parked police car. The driver was transported to a precinct headquarters across from a predominantly African American high-rise public housing project. People began throwing bricks and bottles. After six days of rioting, the death toll reached 23, 725 injuries were reported and 1,500 were arrested.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered on April 4, 1968. Tthe news of his death caused riots to break out all across the country in 120 different cities. Some of the most severe reactions took place in Washington D.C. and Chicago. It took several decades for the riot areas to recover from the extensive property damage.
- University of Miami: The Sixties: The Great Society & Urban Riots
- Civil Rights Digital Library: Watts Riots
- Rutgers University: Riots 1967: Detroit Riots
- Rutgers University: Riots 1967: Newark Riots
- National Archives: The Text Message: The 1968 Riots in Washington, DC
- PBS: The Sixties: House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)
- Getty Images/Photodisc/Getty Images