LIFE Went to Los Angeles in Search of Savage Gangsters in 1966, But Didn’t Expect This

In 1966, LIFE magazine decided to go into the slums of Los Angeles following the riots in the summer of 1965. The magazine had hoped to capture the scariest gangs in the city; however, they ended up capturing something far different than expected.

Just to take you back in time, the summer of 1965 saw racial tensions reach their boiling point. It all began when a young African American was pulled over for suspicion of driving under the influence. In order to protect the youngster, his family got involved. Things got out of control and large objects were hurled at the police officers.

Riots broke out after this incident, as black and Latino citizens were tired of the treatment they received from the police. That summer, a six-day period of riots saw 24 people killed, 1,032 injured, and nearly 3,500 people arrested.

Thus, when LIFE took to the streets to photograph the terrifying gangs of Los Angeles, they were surprised at what they found. As revealed in the photos above, young African American gangsters are dressed impeccably in their high-waisted trousers and stylish cardigans.

The magazine discovered that gangs had almost completely subsided. In their place were “Dapper Rebels,” also known as young men who poured their fervor into supported civil rights for blacks. They hoped to stand up to pay inequality, police brutality, and white gangs who were intent on bombing their homes and setting fire to crosses on their lawns.

Additionally, there was a notorious LAPD police chief, William Parker, who was set on establishing dominance over young black and Latino teens. This resulted in frequent beatings, unnecessary arrests, and even assaults on women.

The youngsters in the above photos had a fervor for Malcolm X and other black leaders who stood up for their rights. In the end, many of the “Dapper Rebels” ended up joining the Black Panthers, Brown Berets, and Malcolm X Foundation.

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