In August of 1965, six days of rioting ensued in the Watts region of Los Angeles after an African-American man was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol for drunk driving, and his mother and brother participated in the altercation when the police officer radioed for the man's vehicle to be impounded. Marquette Frye, the motorist, was subdued with physical force by several officers who were trying to arrest him. As the situation intensified, growing crowds of local residents watching the exchange began yelling and throwing objects at the police officers. After Frye was arrested along with his mother and brother, the crowds continued to grow and the police returned to the scene several times that night to break them up and were attacked with rocks and concrete. The ensuing six days saw a 46-square mile area of Los Angeles transformed into a combat zone. During the rioting, 3900 National Guardsmen were called out who enforced a curfew when martial law was declared. In addition to the guardsmen, 934 Los Angeles Police officers and 718 officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were deployed during the rioting. It was estimated that between 31,000 and 35,000 adults participated in the riots over the course of six days, while twice that many were "sympathetic, but not active."
Prior to 1992, the Watts riot was the most severe in the city's history, resulting in 34 deaths, 1032 injuries, 3438 arrests, and over $40 million in property damage. After the Watts riot, there was much debate regarding what really happened and why. Governor Pat Brown appointed a commission to investigate the riots--known as the McCone Commission, because it was headed by former CIA director John A. McCone. The result of the Commission was a 101-page report entitled Violence in the City--An End or a Beginning?: A Report by the Governor's Commission on the Los Angeles Riots, 1965. The report identified the root causes of the riots to be high unemployment, poor schools, and other inferior living conditions for African Americans in Watts. Recommendations for addressing these problems included "emergency literacy and pre-school programs, improved police-community ties, increased low-income housing, more job-training projects, upgraded health-care services, more efficient public transportation, and many more."
The idea to "revisit" the McCone Commission report originated with Dr. Kent M. Lloyd who ran for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction and for U.S. Congress in California, and was later an official at the U.S. Department of Education working directly with Ted Bell, the Secretary of Education. During this time, Dean Henry Reining was the Dean of the School of Public Administration at USC where Kendall Price was on the faculty. He and his colleagues felt it was important to get another perspective on the McCone report and USC's relation to the African-American community. They organized a non-profit corporation called Public Executive Development and Research (PEDR), Inglewood, California. Working closely with the School of Public Administration, they conducted two seminars and the conference which led to the Critique of the Governor's Commission on the Los Angeles Riots. (Dr. Price stated that they originally had called it The McCone Report Revisited, but doesn't remember when or why the title got changed.) As the two-day conference was being organized, Dean Reining received a call from John McCone about the conference who was apparently concerned about a conference dealing with the McCone Commission-- and John McCone was also a member of the USC Board of Trustees. He must have been reassured by Reining since the Conference went on as planned.
In creating this Critique, PEDR had the involvement of civic leaders, intergroup relations professionals, government agency heads, academics, and leaders from the community. Thanks to Dr. Lloyd, PEDR received financial support from the U.S. Office of Education to conduct two eight-week seminars dealing with issues in the African-American community. The first of these was with twenty intergroup relations and social welfare agency executives from public, private, federal, state, and local agencies in Los Angeles County. The second included twenty African-American grass roots leaders from the Watts area, including Ron Everett- Karenga who became internationally respected as a founder of Kwanza. These seminars were a lead-up to the conference that would deal with the McCone Report, and included preparation of papers which would be presented at the later conference.
It is Dr. Price's belief that their report--and the activities that led to its creation--helped to begin building a stronger relationship between USC and the neighborhood it inhabits. Prior to this period, USC was known more for its football team than for its academic reputation, and it was not as involved in community issues as it is now. Even though USC is not in Watts, the neighborhood and community around USC struggles with many of the same social and racial issues as its more southern neighborhood.