The explosions of “urban unrest” in the 1960s became almost immediately, and have remained, something like Rorschach tests or ventriloquist dummies for scholars, journalists, and advocates of political programs across the ideological spectrum. Our prompt notes that taxonomizing those events was and is a theater of ideological contestation. It could hardly have been otherwise. Especially the major riots—Harlem, Watts, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, etc.—dominated national and local news coverage for days or weeks at a time, and the specter of the “long, hot summer,” a product of activists’ efforts to leverage the outbreaks to demand increased redistributive public spending, quickly became an everyday trope in the public lexicon.

Classification of the civil disturbances lined up as political allegory in predictable ways among radicals, liberals or moderates, and conservatives. These interpretive tendencies have shaped discussion of racialized civil disturbances ever since, as witnessed...

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