Headlines from the Zoot Suit Riot (Los Angeles Times, via Newspapers.com)
The Zoot Suit Riots were several days of racial conflict in the Los Angeles area in June 1943, predominantly between white U.S. servicemen and Mexican American youths. “Zoot suit” refers to a suit with a long jacket and tapered pants, popular among young Latinos at the time.
Leading up to the riots, racial tensions in Los Angeles, California, between whites and Latinos had been growing. Events like the Sleepy Lagoon murder in August 1942 increasingly led to Mexican Americans being perceived as a criminals by whites.
The racial tensions were stoked by the Los Angeles press, which portrayed Latino youths as gang members and delinquents. The zoot suits popular among young Latinos took on a racial connotation, which was aggravated by a wartime rationing on fabrics that led to the baggy suits being seen as unpatriotic during World War II.
Zoot Suit Riots
Amid a series of escalating altercations between Latinos and servicemen, a large group of sailors came into Los Angeles on June 4, 1943, and attacked anyone wearing a zoot suit–apparently in retribution for a clash between some sailors and Latino youths the night before.
Violent clashes continued in the days that followed, and the Los Angeles police did little to stop the violence. Thousands of servicemen, off-duty police, and civilians attacked minorities, stripping them of their zoot suits and beating them. Although Mexican Americans were the primary victims, other minorities such as African Americans and Filipino Americans were also harassed and beaten.
The clashes continued until June 8, when the military finally made Los Angeles off limits to servicemen and deployed military police.
After the riots, the Los Angeles mayor argued that they were not sparked by racism but by gang activity. However, a committee formed by the California governor identified racial prejudice as one of the causes of the riots.
Learn more about the Zoot Suit Riots through historical newspapers from our archives. Explore newspaper articles, headlines, images, and other primary sources below.
Articles and Clippings about the Zoot Suit Riots
Zoot suits are called "unpatriotic" after WPB limits amount of cloth that can be used in suits Fri, Sep 4, 1942 – 6 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.comNewspaper column claims "some correlation between zoot and violent crime" Tue, Oct 6, 1942 – 21 · The Evening Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) · Newspapers.comSo-called "zoot-suit gang" is convicted of murder of Jose Diaz in Sleepy Lagoon trial Wed, Jan 13, 1943 – 2 · Santa Maria Times (Santa Maria, California) · Newspapers.comOpinion piece about zoot suits published in the LA Times a few months before Zoot Suit Riots Mon, Mar 22, 1943 – 32 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from an editorial describing negative police attitudes towards zoot suits Thu, Apr 8, 1943 – Page 8 · Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona) · Newspapers.com"Zoot suit gangs" are accused of attacking "peaceful citizens" in Los Angeles in May 1943 Tue, May 25, 1943 – 2 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comLos Angeles Times coverage of the Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943 Tue, Jun 8, 1943 – 1 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comPicture of servicemen and civilians stopping a trolley to remove a passenger wearing a zoot suit Tue, Jun 8, 1943 – 2 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comPhoto of victims from the Zoot Suit Riots who were attacked by servicemen Tue, Jun 8, 1943 – 1 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comImages of youths arrested during Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles Wed, Jun 9, 1943 – 3 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comNewspaper photos from the June 1943 Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles, California Fri, Jun 11, 1943 – Page 12 · Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) · Newspapers.comPhotos of servicemen and Latinos from the Zoot Suit Riots in June 1943 Fri, Jun 11, 1943 – 1 · The Times-News (Twin Falls, Idaho) · Newspapers.comViolence begins to die down when sailors are restricted from LA and military police are deployed Wed, Jun 9, 1943 – 1 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comLA mayor claims Zoot Suit Riots were a result of gang activity not racial discrimination Thu, Jun 10, 1943 – 2 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comCalifornia governor orders committee to investigate the Zoot Suit Riots Thu, Jun 10, 1943 – 1 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comLos Angeles city council debates whether to ban zoot suits after riots Thu, Jun 10, 1943 – 2 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comLos Angeles Times editorial blames Zoot Suit Riots on "gangsterism" not "race persecution" Fri, Jun 11, 1943 – 1 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comArmy commander issues statement about punishment for soldiers involved in Zoot Suit Riots Sat, Jun 12, 1943 – 2 · The Los Angeles Times (Los Angeles, California) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from a column supporting servicemen's acts of violence in the Zoot Suit Riots Sat, Jun 12, 1943 – Page 7 · The Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) · Newspapers.comCalifornia governor's committee on Zoot Suit Riots presents initial findings Sun, Jun 13, 1943 – 20 · The Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from an editorial identifying the Zoot Suit Riots as race riots Sun, Jun 13, 1943 – 20 · Hartford Courant (Hartford, Connecticut) · Newspapers.comExcerpt from an editorial skeptical of the "vigilantism" practiced by servicemen during the riots Mon, Jun 14, 1943 – 4 · The Evening Sun (Hanover, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.comEleanor Roosevelt "Says Race Discrimination Caused Zoot Suit Riot" Thu, Jun 17, 1943 – 15 · The Tampa Tribune (Tampa, Florida) · Newspapers.comFormer commissioner says Zoot Suit Riots were misrepresented by the press Fri, Jul 2, 1943 – Page 5 · The Catholic Advance (Wichita, Kansas) · Newspapers.com