LOS ANGELES — The woman who intervened when an officer pulled over one of her sons, leading to a racially-charged scuffle that set off the 1965 Watts riot, has died.
Rena Price died of natural causes June 10 in Los Angeles, her son Wendell Price told the Los Angeles Times. She was 97.
On August 11, 1965 Price rushed from her home in South Los Angeles to a nearby traffic stop where a white California Highway Patrol officer had pulled over her son Marquette Frye.
Accounts vary on what set off the scuffle, but a patrolman hit Frye on the head with a baton, his mother jumped on another officer, tearing his shirt, then another officer pulled out a shotgun.
A growing crowd witnessed police arrest Price, Frye and his brother Ronald, who was a passenger in the car. After rumors spread that police had roughed up a black woman, angry mobs formed and six days of rioting raged across the city. Thirty-four people were killed, more than 1,000 injured and hundreds of buildings were damaged or destroyed.
The riot exposed deep fractures between blacks and an overwhelmingly white law enforcement community.
After the Fryes’ names appeared in news accounts about the riot’s inception, most of the family began using the last name Price, which belonged to the father of one of her children, her son Wendell told the Times.
Marquette was arrested dozens of times after the riots and died of pneumonia in 1986, when he was 41. Price also struggled, telling the Times decades later that nobody would hire her after the arrest.
She was found guilty of interfering with police officers — a misdemeanor — and was given a 30-day jail term which was later reduced to two years’ probation. In 1966 an appeals panel reversed her conviction, citing prejudicial remarks the prosecution had made to the jury blaming Price and her sons for causing the deadly riots.
As time passed, Price eventually found work and moved past the events of 1965, especially after they were eclipsed by the more destructive 1992 riots.
“What was the name of that King guy? Rodney? You hear more about that than the ’65 riots,” she told the Times in 2005. “Oh, it’s been years. I’m through with it.”