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'Rough South': Chronicles of L.A.'s Violent Past

Police officers come to the aid of a bleeding Karl Fleming after he was attacked on May 17, 1966, by black youths during a flare-up of racial tensions in Watts.
Associated Press
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Police officers come to the aid of a bleeding Karl Fleming after he was attacked on May 17, 1966, by black youths during a flare-up of racial tensions in Watts.

Karl Fleming revisits the spot where he nearly lost his life in 1966.
Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR /
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Karl Fleming revisits the spot where he nearly lost his life in 1966.

Journalist Karl Fleming was nearly beaten to death in the South Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts during a racial protest in the summer of 1966. Fleming's new book, Son of the Rough South: An Uncivil Memoir, details his time reporting on the civil rights movement during the turbulent 1960s.

In the summer of 1966, Fleming was the Los Angeles bureau chief for Newsweek magazine. He was reporting on a flare-up of protests in the Watts area of south L.A. when about 20 black youths attacked him and another white man, beating them with boards.

Ten days before, a white cop had shot dead an unarmed black man rushing his wife to the hospital to have a baby. A year earlier, the Watts riots had torn the area apart, and tensions between police and residents were still strained to the breaking point.

Fleming recently returned to the site where the beating took place, and says little has changed to ease racial tensions.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.