‘Zoot Suit’ and History – Part 13

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May 4, 1995: Portions of the June 10, 1943, report on the Zoot Suit Riots have been redacted and placed in a parallel file. This is due to privacy concerns because the individuals may still be alive, an archivist explained.


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.

“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 | Part 12

As you may recall, I began this hunt in search of Joe Dacy Coleman, who appears in the 2003 book “Murder at the Sleepy Lagoon” by Eduardo Obregón Pagán, Pages 164-165, and has since been spread all over the Internet. Unfortunately, the names in this copy of the report have been deleted due to privacy concerns.

You’ll notice that the Navy blames the riots on lax law enforcement by the LAPD, charging that police allowed the situation to get out of hand. Los Angeles officials, naturally, contested this accusation. Most important, however, is that the report strictly deals with zoot-suiters’ attacks on Navy personnel. As far as the Navy was concerned, the zoot-suiters were the aggressors.

The entries, unfortunately, are not organized in any apparently logical fashion and the pages aren’t numbered, so it takes a bit of work to distill the report. Here are some samples, all occurring before the Zoot Suit Riots:

On another occasion, believed to have occurred the latter part of March,  XXXX was walking between the Second and Third streets on Broadway, about 0100, going home from the Hollywood Canteen. A group of men, dressed in zoot suits, standing on the sidewalk, cursed him as he passed, calling him a “fucking Navy bastard” and “cock-sucker of the first water” and other vile names.

On Saturday night, May 1, XXXX’s wife had visited him at the training school. On her way home, walking along Chavez Ravine, two zoot-suiters in a car cruised by her several times, then they parked close to her and asked her to get in the car, saying “How about a fuck?” Again on Monday, May 3, three zoot-suiters on Sunset Boulevard drove by XXXX’s wife and cursed her.

About 2230, May 10, J. and XXXX walked past the corner of Sixth and Figueroa where five zoot-suiters started swearing at the sailors, calling them “low down sailors and mother fuckers.” A passing motorist, seeing the situation, offered to give the sailors a ride and they were returned to the armory safely.

On Tuesday, May 17, about 2100, XXXX and XXXX, another sailor, were with girlfriends, walking along a path under a bridge at Westlake Park. Six zoot-suiters approached and lighted matches. They said, “Look at those chicken shit sailors. Fuck those guys.”

There is another report issued June 22, 1943, and that will be posted next.

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June 10, 1943: A memo to the director of naval intelligence on the Zoot Suit Riots.

….started through unprovoked assault on servicemen escorting women by so called zoot suit gangs of hoodlums composed of young Mexicans and Negroes, forcing sailors Marines and soldiers to acts of self defense and self protecting and inciting retaliation. Situation grew out of lack of proper policing during past several months….

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June 10, 1943: The first page of Lt. Glen A. Litten’s report on the Zoot Suit Riots, sometimes referred to as “the Litten report.”

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About lmharnisch

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

2 Responses to ‘Zoot Suit’ and History – Part 13

  1. Casey says:

    Is this the last of your posts on this subject?

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