Rena Price

While everyone knows who Rosa Parks is, not many people know who Rena Price (who just died at 97) is. She is the matriarch, of sorts, of the 1965 Watts riots:

Rena Price was in her kitchen in the Watts section of Los Angeles on Aug. 11, 1965, when a neighbor came to tell her that the police were arresting her 21-year-old son, Marquette Frye. She immediately raced to the corner of 116th Street and South Avalon Boulevard, her red-flowered dress billowing.

Her first reaction was to scold her son for driving while intoxicated, which a police sobriety test showed he was. He insisted he was sober, but Price shrugged his arm away from her shoulder and said: “You’re not acting normal. You’re not acting right. Get away from me.”

Alongside them was a highway patrolman, Lee Minikus, who had stopped Frye for reckless driving and had, by his account, been joking with the young man when Price arrived on the scene. He later said that “to all appearances” Price’s words “appeared to incite Marquette to refuse to submit to physical arrest.”

Scuffling ensued, punches were thrown, and arrests were made as an increasingly restive crowd grew. Soon the tension boiled over into the neighborhood, setting off a contagion of mayhem that became known as the Watts riots — the biggest uprising by blacks in the United States since the slave revolts. “Burn, baby, burn!” was the cry of marauding bands, an exclamation mark on the race riots that had ripped through Harlem, Detroit, Newark and other places in the mid-1960s.

After six days of violence in Los Angeles, 34 people were dead and more than 1,000 were wounded. Property damage approached $100 million.

As far as what actually happened with Marquette Frye, it appears that he — like fellow ‘civil rights’ icon Rodney King — fueled the situation by not only not complying with police orders but trying to attack them.

Precisely what happened at 116th Street and South Avalon Boulevard has long been debated. Versions of the episode have varied. Probably the most complete account is by Jerry Cohen and William Murphy, reporters whose coverage of the riots helped The Los Angeles Times win a Pulitzer Prize in 1966 and whose book that year, “Burn, Baby, Burn! The Los Angeles Race Riot, August 1965,” explored the event even further.

By their account, Frye, after his scolding, whirled from his mother and started swearing at the police, threatening to kill them. He swung at an officer trying to subdue him. As the police waited for reinforcements, an officer went to his car and got a shotgun.

Tensions escalated. Frye threw a punch at an officer, who slugged him back. A stepbrother, Ronald Frye, who had been riding in the car, also got involved in the fracas. Price jumped on at least one officer’s back (Cohen and Murphy wrote that she had jumped on two, but accounts differ) and ripped his shirt. Meanwhile, the crowd of onlookers had grown to more than 200. They booed as Price was handcuffed and shoved into a police car.

Everything was going fine with the arrest until his mama got there,” Minikus said in a 2005 interview with The Los Angeles Times.

Someone in the crowd spit on a police officer, and another woman was arrested. She had on the blue smock she wore as a barber, and because it was large and loose, like Price’s dress, word spread through the crowd that two pregnant women had been roughed up and arrested. Neither, in fact, was pregnant.

Even in 1965, liberals were in full-swing with their ‘economic impoverishment’ explanation of bad black behavior.

A state commission found causes for the violence in a paucity of jobs, inadequate schools and resentment of the police. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., who went to Watts immediately afterward, blamed “general despair.”…

In August 1965, Marquette Frye pleaded guilty to drunken driving, battery and malicious injury of property. His stepbrother Ronald — who was also in the car, their mother’s 1955 Buick — pleaded guilty to interfering with a police officer. Wendell Price said Ronald was still living in the Los Angeles area. Both Marquette and Ronald were sentenced to three years’ probation.

A jury found Price guilty of interfering with a police officer, rejecting her lawyer’s argument that she had only come to the aid of her sons. A judge fined her $250 and instructed her to pay in monthly installments of $10.

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