On This Day

Zoot Suit Riots

A man in a zoot suit is inspected after being arrested by the LAPD in 1943
A man in a zoot suit is inspected after being arrested by the LAPD in 1943

Historical Context

'Zoot suits' were oversize, high-wasted and wide-legged suits associated with Latino, African-American, Italian-American and Filipino-American communities in the United States during the 1940s. In Los Angeles, simmering tensions between white residents and the Latino community burst into the open in 1943 after an argument between a group of servicemen and Latino youths devolved into a fight on June 3.

Many servicemen and city residents targeted Latinos wearing zoot suits because, in the midst of World War II rationing, they felt the clothing was unpatriotic due to the amount of fabric required to make the suits. The race riot spread throughout the city, with hundreds of attacks against youths over the following days.

The imbalance of the police response is evident in the fact that no soldiers were ever arrested for their part in the riots, but many Latinos were charged. Local press lauded the attacks as cleaning up 'hoodlums', and the city council banned zoot suits in LA city limits. Many later activists such as Malcolm X and Cesar Chavez noted the riots as inspiration to get into political activism.

Photo Info

Photographer: John T. Burns
Date taken: June 7, 1943
Location taken: Los Angeles, California, USA

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Related Events

  • 1943-06-03 A mob of 60 from the Los Angeles Naval Reserve Armory beat up everyone perceived to be Hispanic, starting the week-long Zoot Suit Riots

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Historical Photos