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Watts Festival Celebrates--but With an Eerie Parallel


Annette Mixon was not even born in 1966 when the first Watts Summer Festival attracted tens of thousands to celebrate African-American heritage and commemorate the deadly civil disturbances of one year earlier.

But the 24-year-old USC graduate vividly recalls the carnage that rocked Los Angeles this year. That violence was the catalyst that brought Mixon to the African American Unity Center to help plan the 26th annual Watts Summer Festival.

On Sunday, Mixon saw the fruits of her labors come alive as hundreds of people converged on 53rd Street and South Vermont Avenue in South-Central Los Angeles to browse the cultural marketplace, take in concerts, a fashion show and art exhibit and to sample everything from barbecued ribs to wooden xylophones from Sierra Leone.

"I wanted to offer a positive solution," Mixon said. "The festival is a place where we can come together and develop common pride."

Police estimated that 250 attended each weekend day, while organizers said 2,000. Attendance was hurt by radio ads that mistakenly said the festival would be at Will Rogers Park as in years past, but a dispute with Los Angeles County nixed that plan, a festival official said.

There were eerie parallels to the first festival, which also took place under the shadow of burned-out buildings and hearts filled with hope that civic attention would finally be paid to the inner city. This year the amusement park rides were plunked down in a lot where a Pep Boys store stood before the riots.

Tommy Jacquette, the festival's director, said Los Angeles' civil disturbance has united the black community, and the truce between black street gangs has made people less afraid to attend festivals.

"There's a lot of new people getting involved for the first time; this year a lot of volunteers are in their 20s," Jacquette said.

The face of South Los Angeles has changed much in 26 years. Sunday's festival-goers included Jose A. Romero and his family, who live nearby.

"We saw a lot of people, and everyone looked happy, so we decided to come," Romero said in Spanish.

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