A Lost Lyrical Commemoration of the Watts Rebellion

tags: Los Angeles, Watts, policing

The episode of civil disorder known either as the "Watts Riots" or the "Watts Rebellion" is generally considered to have ended on this date in 1965, though the grievances driving the unrest arguably remain unaddressed.--ed.






Fifty-five years ago, Chicago folk artist and political activist Mike Muench wrote and sang, but never recorded, this song:


When It’s Summer in Los Angeles


When you can’t get a job, when people stare you in the face

When scores of sneering faces insult the color of your race

When the forces of the nation are all brought down upon you

When it’s summer in Los Angeles what are you going to do?


The papers say that vandals are tearing up the street

It just can’t be rebellion so they blame it on the heat

The police sent in more cops and Watts town sent more men

Then they called in the national guard, it’s 1913 again.*


Now I’d rather see a sit-in with its picketers and signs

But everyone is tired of all the jailings and the fines

When peaceful protests’ pleadings fall on numberless deaf ears

But you find that they are listening when this kind of trouble nears.


Well-fed faces say in chorus that we must respect the law

But when law and order bind you what conclusion can you draw?

When the forces of this nation are all brought down upon you

When it’s summer in Los Angeles what are you going to do?


[Words and music by Michael Muench 1965, no copyright.]


Pete Seeger’s refrain in his 1955 song “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” posed the still unanswered question: “Oh, when will they ever learn? Oh, when will they ever learn?”


*   “By the Associated Press: LOS ANGELES, Dec. 25.—Rafael Adames, a Mexican, was killed and fifty men were injured in a riot at the Plaza when the officers started to break up a meeting of nearly 1000 unemployed and hungry men, many of them Industrial Workers of the World and Mexicans. Nearly fifty of the rioters were arrested.”

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