Zoot Suit Riots

A little bit out of the norm from my usual posts but as a huge fan of *old* music, I was surprised how little I knew about the “Zoot Suit Riots” – funny how none of this was ever mentioned during any history classes.

The photo was taken by John Ferrell and first ...

The photo was taken by John Ferrell and first published in June, 1942. The original caption read: “Washington, D.C. Soldier inspecting a couple of “zoot suits” at the Uline Arena during Woody Herman’s Orchestra engagement there.” Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection, number, e.g., LC-USF35-1326 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 As I was watching this, it dawned on me that sometimes, the more we think things have changed, the more they really might be the same…

The Zoot Suit Riots were a series of riots in 1943 during World War II that exploded in Los Angeles, California between white sailors and Marines stationed throughout the city and Latino youths, who were recognizable by the zoot suits they favored. While Mexican Americans and military servicemen were the main parties in the riots, African American and Filipino/Filipino American youth were also involved…

…a series of violent incidents erupted between Mexicans wearing zoot suits and U.S. service personnel in San Jose, Oakland, San Diego, Delano, Los Angeles and other places. The most serious of these acts of violence broke out in Los Angeles.

Two conflicts between Mexicans and military personnel had a great effect on the start of the riots. The first occurred on May 30, 1943, four days before the start of the riots. The altercation involved a dozen sailors and soldiers including Seaman Second Class Joe Dacy Coleman. The group was walking down Main Street when they spotted a group of young Mexican women on the opposite side of the street. With the exception of Coleman and another soldier, the group crossed the street to approach and harass the women. Coleman continued on, walking past a small group of young men in zoot suits. As he walked by, Coleman saw one of the young men raise his arm in a so-called “threatening” manner, so he turned around and grabbed it. It was then that something or someone struck the sailor in the back of the head at which point he fell to the ground unconscious, allegedly breaking his jaw in two places. On the opposite side of the street, young men attacked the servicemen for harassing the women. In the midst of this battle, the service men managed to fight their way to Coleman and drag him to safety.

The second incident took place four days later on the night of June 3, 1943. About eleven sailors got off a bus and started walking along Main Street in Downtown Los Angeles. At some point they ran into a group of young Mexicans dressed in zoot suits and got in a verbal argument. It was then that the sailors stated that they were jumped and beaten by this gang of zoot suiters. When the LAPD responded to the incident, many of them off duty officers, they called themselves the Vengeance Squad and went to the scene “seeking to clean up Main Street from what they viewed as the loathsome influence of pachuco gangs.” The next day, 200 members of the U.S. Navy got a convoy of about 20 taxi cabs and headed for East Los Angeles. When the sailors spotted their first victims, most of them 12-13 year old boys, they clubbed the boys and adults that were trying to stop them. They also stripped the boys of their zoot suits and burned the tattered clothes in a pile. They were determined to attack and strip all minorities that they came across who were wearing zoot suits. It was with this attack that the Zoot Suit Riots started…

Read more on Wiki


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