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66th Anniversary of LA's 'Zoot Suit Riots' This Week

An LA Police Officer and a Zoot Suit-wearing youth in the 1940s. (Photo via Stuart Cosgrove)
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June 3, 1943 marked the start of just over a week of violence on the streets of Los Angeles that would come to be known as the Zoot Suit Riots. You may have hummed along to the old Cherry Poppin' Daddies song of the same name, but do you know the story? The riots are largely attributed to the January 1943 sentencing of the young men pinned en masse with the Sleepy Lagoon murder, and sparked by ongoing tension between military personnel and predominantly Hispanic youth who dressed in zoot suits--many of whom identified as being part of the Pachuco subculture.

Sailors on leave targeted zoot suit wearers, forcing them to strip and engaging them in physical violence. The violence spread from pockets of Downtown and East LA, as the media and the local authorities sought to point the blame on the Zoot Suiters and assured the public the riots would "blow over," and that they were not racially motivated.

Want to learn more about the Zoot Suit riots? Check out PBS's American Experience website, or read esteemed journalist Carey McWilliams' account of the events and the aftermath and Luis Valdez' play Zoot Suit.