Zoot Suit Riots

Sleepy Lagoon Murder Defendants

Sleepy Lagoon Murder Defendants


I was called for jury duty yesterday and wanted to post something today about how it felt to be a part of that process, that history. Instead I ran across a photo of the Sleepy Lagoon defendants and followed my curiosity.  I googled Sleepy Lagoon and learned about the Zoot Suit Riots  (Until today, I would have  sworn that “Zoot Suit Riots” was a song…)

The Zoot Suit Riots are summarized as follows thanks to PBS:

May 1943, Zoot Suit Riot. For the better part of a week, sailors and other servicemen dragged (Mexican and African American)  kids off streetcars, from restaurants, and out of movie theaters. The boys were beaten and often stripped of their zoot suits. Thousands of white civilians cheered them on and helped the sailors. As the riot progressed, Mexican American boys moved to defend their neighborhoods, setting traps for sailors and assaulting them in their cars. The L.A.P.D. let the riot continue for the better part of a week. After the riot ended, the Los Angeles City Council banned the wearing of zoot suits on Los Angeles streets.

 Oh yes, and the Sleepy Lagoon Murder., for those who are interested. 

This is also a great site about the history of the Los Angeles area with more info about the Zoot Suit and riots- as well as this very graphic reminder that blatent prejudice existed not so long ago.



I noticed that I neglected to even describe a Zoot Suit (or let wikipedia do it for me).  According to Wikipeida,

A zoot suit has high-waisted, wide-legged, tight-cuffed pegged trousers (Spanish: tramas), and a long coat (Spanish: carlango) with wide lapels and wide padded shoulders. Often zoot suiters wear a felt hat with a long feather (Spanish: tapa or tanda) and pointy, French-style shoes (Spanish: calcos). A young Malcolm X described the zoot suit as: “a killer-diller coat with a drape shape, reet pleats and shoulders padded like a lunatic’s cell”.[4] Zoot suits usually featured a watch chain dangling from the belt to the knee or below, then back to a side pocket.

Zoot suits were for special occasions, such as a dance or a birthday party. The amount of material and tailoring required made them luxury items, so much so that the U.S. War Production Board said that they wasted materials that should be devoted to the World War II war effort.[5] This extravagance during wartime was a factor in the Zoot Suit Riots.[6] Wearing the oversized suit was a declaration of freedom and self-determination, even rebelliousness.[6]



6 Responses to Zoot Suit Riots

  1. Bob says:

    The song, “Zoot Suit Riot,” was a hit for the neo-swing band Cherry Poppin’ Daddies at the end of the ’90s. It’s sort of about the riots, but doesn’t really have much to say.

    • lynette77 says:

      Oh, too funny. I guess there is a song.
      Thanks Bob !

      Zoot Suit Riot Lyrics:

      Who’s that whisperin’ in the trees?
      It’s two sailors and they’re on leave
      Pipes and chains and swingin’ hands
      Who’s your daddy? Yes I am

      Fat cat came to play
      Now he can’t run fast enough
      You’d best stay away
      When the pushers come to shove

      Zoot suit riot

      throw back a bottle of beer
      Zoot suit riot

      Pull a comb through your coal black hair

      Zoot suit riot

      throw back a bottle of beer
      Zoot suit riot

      Pull a comb through your coal black hair
      Blow Daddy!

      A whipped up jitterbuggin’ brown eyed man
      A stray cat frontin’ up an eight-piece band
      Cut me Sammy and you’ll understand
      In my veins hot music ran

      You got me in a sway
      and I want to swing you dove
      Now you sailors know
      Where your women come for love

      Zoot suit riot …

  2. Ben says:

    “Zot Suit” is a great movie about that situation. Edward Olmos is terriffic. I grew up in LA when the” Pachuco” style still existed. I love the word “carnal”, it means flesh and is used to address a relative.

    • lynette77 says:

      It is really amazing to realize how little has changed… today it is baggy pants and baseball caps but the need to make a statement, and judgements about those statements, still exist.

  3. elloco68 says:

    carnal means brother or used as a deep form of affection for another male (as if to say he is like a brother)also the baggy clothes of today is directly linked to the Zoot Suits & the sleepy lagoon murder case.when the 38th st. gang were in prison they were given oversized clothes too make fun of them but instead they took the clothes in pride & kept them clean & ironed (dressed proper & neat as possible in them) later after the pachucos had grown & had kids in the 50′ & 60’s the children wore baggy (but not saggy)pants intothe 70’s & 80’s then in the 90’s another aggsageration of the look started & now thw wear oversized clothes but looks sloppy(sloppy copy)& Zoot suits are still worn but only on special occassions & are more for show (like the double chain)
    the original chain is one not double & some were used as weapons.

  4. JBM says:

    I would like to see a movie not a play of the story of the the zootsuit riots.It would show america that people havent change.

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