40 pages • 1 hour readC. Vann Woodward
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On August 6, 1965, Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. On August 11, a riot broke out in Watts, a neighborhood in Los Angeles. Over the course of four days, riots raged until 46 square miles were brought under military control. Thirty-four people died, more than 1,000 were injured, and 4,000 were arrested. Watts marked the beginning of four summers of race riots throughout the United States. The riots took place in African American neighborhoods and targeted symbols of white authority, including the police, firefighters, the National Guard, and white property.
Woodward outlines several factors that influenced the wave of riots. Despite legal desegregation, de facto desegregation was rising in the North, fueled by white flight to the suburbs. Unemployment rates for African American workers was high. African American leadership shifted to the North, became more secular in character, and focused more on economic issues rather than civil rights. African American leaders like Malcolm X became powerful voices for separation and increased African American autonomy. Major civil rights organizations, including the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), moved away from integration as a goal. In 1966 Stokely Carmichael took over the SNCC leadership and introduced the term “Black Power.
By C. Vann Woodward