‘Zoot Suit’ and History – Part 12

To recap briefly, I have been digging into the historical basis of the movie “Zoot Suit,” which I saw this summer in the Last Remaining Seats series.  The Times ignored the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots for several days, in what must be one of the worst news decisions the editors ever made, so I was forced to dig  into the government records at the National Archives in Riverside for further information.

June 8, 1943: Memo dictated by senior patrol officer, downtown Los Angeles.

“Zoot Suit” and History, Part 1| Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11

So far, we have looked at all the background in Navy records on Southern California in the early 1940s pertaining to intelligence on subversive groups, racial incidents involving sailors and civilians, placing bars and restaurants out of bounds, and the discipline of those who got in trouble. All of this has been necessary to provide a context for what occurred between zoot-suiters  and members of the armed forces in June 1943.

What follows is the first portion of Navy documents on the Zoot Suit Riots. A report ordered June 5 was submitted on June 10 and will appear in the next post.

June 4, 1943, Zoot Suit Riots

June 4, 1943: Lt. Charles L. Bacon reports on the Zoot Suit Riots.



June 4, 1943: Report by Lt. G.A. Litten on the Zoot Suit Riots.


June 4, 1943: Letter from Mrs. Fred Holley to Rep. Ed Gossett (D-Texas) regarding the Zoot Suit Riots.

June 7, 1943: Gossett forwards Holley’s letter on the Zoot Suit Riots to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox.


June 5, 1943: Commanding Officer Martin Dickinson orders Lts. Litten, Bacon and Glasson to compile a report on the Zoot Suit Riots.


June 5, 1943: Lt. Carl Cobbs’ report on the Zoot Suit Riots.



June 8, 1943: Liberty in Los Angeles is restricted.



June 9, 1943:

The Navy is a disciplined organization composed of loyal and intelligent men and partaking in any activities that are of the nature of mob violence is a direct reflection on the Navy itself and on the individual who wears the uniform. Irrespective of what may have been the original cause of these disorders, the enforcement of law rests in the hands of the civilian police and is not a matter which should be undertaken by any unauthorized groups of Navy personnel.


June 9, 1943: Mexican envoy Alfredo Elias Calles cables Rear Adm. D.W. Bagley in San Diego about fights between servicemen and civilians “which have caused a great number of injured among the Mexican colony.”


June 9, 1943: Rear Adm. D.W. Bagley replies to a cable from the Mexican Consulate regarding treatment of zoot-suiters.

I deeply regret that individual incidents of hoodlumism in Los Angeles have been interpreted as acts specifically involving nationals of either Mexico or the United States.


June 9, 1943: A memo discloses rioting in Long Beach. Are the riots inspired by the Axis and being financed by subversives?


June 9, 1943: Another draft of Bagley’s order.

June 9, 1943: A telegram from the Los Angeles Sentinel (an African American weekly) to the secretary of the Navy.

Soldiers, sailors, Marines attacking Negroes and Mexican residents without interference by local law enforcement authority strongly urge you intervene with local military authorities to avert serious race riots.


June 10, 1943: The final version of the Bagley’s memo.

About lmharnisch

I work at the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1943, Film, Hollywood, LAPD, Latinos, World War II, Zoot Suit and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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