June 8, 1943: A mob of servicemen block a streetcar on Main Street to remove a passenger wearing a zoot suit.
This was supposed to be an easy – if long – post to wrap up the Zoot Suit Riots. But research took another path, because The Times ignored the first days of the riots. I’m used to The Times making some incredibly dumb news decisions in its history, but not covering these events is still pretty shocking. I can’t imagine what they were thinking.
Anyway, there will be a slight detour into further research. I hope you’ll enjoy the scenic route!
To recap: I decided to take a look at the historical background of the Zoot Suit Riots after seeing “Zoot Suit” in the Los Angeles Conservancy’s Last Remaining Seats series.
In Part 1, we saw that The Times initially treated the zoot suit as a youthful fad, but the attitude changed once zoot suits were outlawed by the War Production Board to conserve fabric.
In Part 2, Times columnist Timothy Turner provided some more sympathetic insight (zoot-suiters aren’t all criminals and delinquents) that was a surprising counterpoint to the mainstream opinion.
In Part 3, we looked at the events leading up to the Zoot Suit Riots of June 1943.
Here’s our story:
On June 2, 1943, immediately preceding the riots, The Times published this account describing a “zoot suit orgy” in which two women were persuaded to go for a ride with a suspect, but were taken to Elysian Park, dragged into the bushes and “attacked.” I’m presuming they were raped, although the usual newspaper euphemism in this era is “criminally attacked.” And yes, The Times identified the victims and published their addresses, as did all newspapers in this era.
Recall that zoot suits were portrayed as a youthful fad the year before, but they have become the “badge of delinquency,” according to Gene Sherman’s series on gangs, although he notes that not all zoot-suiters are delinquents.
Some portions of Sherman’s story sound depressingly familiar: Athletics as a way to keep teenagers out of gangs, zoot suits as a way for young people to seem “different” and the idea that “the formation of gangs was an outgrowth of a feeling of inferiority on the part of minority groups.”
Sherman says: “Juvenile files repeatedly show that a language variance in the home — where the parents speak no English and cling to a past culture — is a serious factor of delinquency. Parents in such a home lack control over their offspring.”
Translation: Immigrants’ children go wild.
Contrast this attitude with Times columnist Timothy G. Turner who said: “The Mexican problem confronting this city today is compounded by color prejudice. Most of these young Mexicans have much Indian blood. There is a definite caste system against them. It is not like that against the Negro. Like Orientals they can go into restaurants and theaters. But a young Mexican American finds the economic bars up against him. He or she cannot get a job in stores or offices, even as a waiter or waitress in restaurants. The Mexican, however, can be a bus boy.
This is being changed by the manpower shortage, and we are beginning to see Mexican faces where we never saw them before. Mexicans have been barred from many factories engaged in war work, causing much bitterness. The Mexican, generally speaking, is left to hard labor or the most menial work. We have graduated a whole generation of young Mexicans out of high school, educated sons and daughters of Mexican laborers into a middle class which for them does not exist.”
And here’s where I hit a wall. Because the biggest problem is researching the Zoot Suit Riots in The Times is that newspaper the paper didn’t cover them for the first few days.
On June 5, 1943, The Times had nothing.
On June 6, 1943, The Times had nothing.
The earliest reference I can find is on June 7, 1943, when the lead story says that they have been going on for three days.
So I’m going to have to circle back and fill in the blanks. Ever hear of Joe Dacy Coleman? I’m going to be looking for him.