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Watts Summer Festival stays strong, 51 years after the riots

A mural near the historic Watts Train Station.
Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC
A mural near the historic Watts Train Station.

After the 1965 Watts Riots, members of the community organized a festival to focus on healing.

That Watts Summer Festival has been going strong ever since — and this weekend marks its 50th anniversary.

"What I see this festival as doing is putting a foundation for the resiliency of our people," says Lester Jones, who is on the festival's board.

He also places the Watts Summer Festival in a tradition of events that celebrate L.A.'s African American community while mixing in a message of social justice.

Wattstax, held in 1972 to commemorate the seventh anniversary of the riots, packed the L.A. Coliseum with people who came to see the Staple Singers, the Bar Kays and Isaac Hayes, among others.

The two-day Watts Summer Festival features dancing, food, comedy and music. It also includes a remembrance of activist Halifu Tommy Jacquette and a screening of "Wattstax," the concert documentary film.

"We are able as a resilient people to overcome and be about moving forward. And we do it in cultural, not just political. But the cultural response to how can we work together, live together and build together, grow together, so we can have a better community," Jones says.

The Watts Summer Festival takes place Saturday and Sunday at Ted Watkins Park.