‘Zoot Suit’ and History – Navy Reports

Feb. 6, 1942, Lookse Talk

Feb. 6, 1942: Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox warns against “loose talk.” Credit: National Archives.

I returned from Saturday’s trip to the National Archives in Riverside with more than 200 images of historic documents. It’s going to take some time process them for posting on the Internet. Many of the documents are carbons on onion skin paper or pulp paper; they are in roughly chronological order with the newest documents on top, but they still need to be organized. And I photographed them with existing light, so they are a bit murky and have to be enhanced to be readable.

“Zoot Suit” and History, Part 1| Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6

Still, there’s a fantastic amount of information in these documents pertaining to the Zoot Suit Riots and the other business of the Navy (procurement of vehicles, discipline problems, treatment of prisoners, etc.)

Most important, these documents reflect the mind-set of the era. The country was at war and the Navy was vitally concerned with averting any sort of espionage, squelching “loose talk” and tracking subversive organizations.

Longtime readers of the Daily Mirror will recognize some names in these reports: Carey McWilliams, author of “Southern California: An Island on the Land”; Charlotta Bass, editor of the  California Eagle, an African American weekly; and attorney A.L. Wirin of the American Civil Liberties Union.

So be patient. It takes time to research references in the documents. For example, I consider myself somewhat familiar with the 1940s, but I have never heard of the Sinarquists, whom the Navy had under surveillance. And it is one thing to read that sailors were arming themselves with hammock clews as weapons against zoot-suiters and another to know a hammock clew is.

I’ll post the documents in manageable groups of about 10 rather than all at once. You will certainly get a different view of Los Angeles. That’s a promise.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1942, 1943, Crime and Courts, Fashion, Film, Hollywood, World War II and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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