First Draft of History: The Story of the Watts Riots in 50 Headlines From August 1965

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In the days of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, Freddie Gray, McKinney, Ferguson, and a new civil rights movement, it all feels uncomfortably familiar. As told by the newspaper headlines, the narrative differs in tone in language, but is easily recognizable: there’s the certainty that black civil rights have already been secured (the hard-won Voting Rights Act had passed just the week before; its teeth were pulled out in 2013), the handwringing and confusion over the causes for black anger, the notion that the riots were driven by bored kids egged on by trouble-sowing political agitators, the humanizing of the National Guard and dehumanizing of the rioters (almost always referred to collectively, unless they’re denouncing the rioters), the scoldings that the residents were only hurting themselves, the social scientists brought in to give their diagnoses, the sternly bland LA Times editorials, the government panels convened to manufacture a report to explain it all. Then it can all be filed in the past, for a while.

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