Watts is a historic place. It’s where oppressed people from the Deep South and, more recently, from around the world, have come to start a new life in fabled California. They fled the remnants of slavery, Jim Crow, the Klu Klux Klan, lynchings, and corrupt political and legal systems. They fled oppression and political exclusion and came with great hope in search of a new life.
While better than the lands they fled, Watts was far from paradise. Until the mid-1900’s, the Klan was in Watts too and segregation and political exclusion were political norms in Los Angeles. It has always been rough in Watts but a community managed to take hold and was proud of its new struggling place in the sun. People established roots and took pride in Watts. They fought political battles to make Watts a better place and a place they proudly called home. They lived and died there, buried their loved ones nearby. They stayed and tried, and tried very hard, to be treated with respect and dignity.
Although Watts has been very much like an abused stepchild of Los Angeles since its annexation in 1926, it has managed to achieve international fame because of its history, cultural icons, as well as being the site of the largest urban uprising in American history in 1965 when residents violently resisted political and economic abuse by the City of Los Angeles.
Watts itself is a monument to the great universal struggle for civil rights and to the hope for a better country and a better world. It should not be dismantled piecemeal by those who did not build it, those who have not lived it, and by those driven by self-interest. For example, Watts does not need more so-called “affordable housing” structures which would line the pockets of Westside developers and their political friends. It is already the most densely populated, most impoverished, and most contaminated section of Los Angeles. It doesn’t want and doesn’t need housing built and owned by outsiders which will inevitably transform, undermine, and destroy the legacy of Watts.
Instead, Watts could and should become a world-class tourist attraction, a living monument to all people seeking to overcome oppression whether it be political, economic, or racial. Imagine a transformed Watts with main streets renamed Emancipation, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks Boulevards, Lillian Mobley, Caffie Green, Cesar Chavez, Charles R. Drew, Kobe Bryant, Jackie Joyner, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Maria Elena Durazo and hundreds more, there are so many more heroes than streets. You get the idea.
And, all of those newly-named boulevards and avenues lined with gas lamps, ethnic restaurants, clubs, music venues, all owned by and employing locals….safe for tourists and locals alike. And, of course, all of these newly-named streets and boulevards converging on the long-promised Cultural Crescent, a grand complex consisting of the historic train station, museums, and other monuments to the remarkable tenacity of the people of Watts and their struggle for an equal place in the sun.
The Cultural Crescent has been a repeatedly-promised development during uprisings and protests for over the 55 years. The community has been planning for it and waiting for it. The time has now come to keep that long-overdue promise. Doing so will be transformative. Tourists will come in droves to Watts, to enjoy the food and entertainment, and to learn of a community’s struggle for fairness and equality which mirrors our nation’s struggle to right past wrongs. It will be an inspiration for people everywhere who are hoping for and struggling for a better life.
Just think of it….Destination Watts! This is what Watts could be and should be. A place where people go for inspiration and go to experience an authentic culture. This is the dream of Simon Rodia when he was building the world-famous Watts Towers and it has been the dream of other local giants. The dream cannot die.
Among other things, Watts is a central transportation hub linking together all parts of the city and county and deserves access to right-of-way revenue that has always been diverted elsewhere. Watts could easily make a powerful argument for cityhood. Yet, Watts should, if possible, remain part of Los Angeles instead of becoming separately incorporated. Nonetheless, all options should be on the table in the political confrontations that may present themselves in the fight for a just future. Politicians should be listening to the growing sounds of justice and equality. Watts must have its fair share of political power and public resources.
Watts must not allow concealed forces of destruction, disguised in the name of urban development, progress, affordable housing, or anything else that would destroy the dream of Watts; a place that deserves to be preserved as a national memorial to oppressed people everywhere and to those who continue to fight for a just and fair society. It’s time to accelerate our fight and call for meetings to set the agenda. We need to stand together and be counted in order to continue the fight that so many others before us fought.