On this dayMay 30, 1943

White Mobs Attack Latino Youth in Los Angeles “Zoot Suit Riots”

Image | Anthony Potter Collection, Hulton Archive, Getty Images

On May 30, 1943, a scuffle between a group of soldiers and a group of zoot suit wearers sparked a series of conflicts that became known as the Zoot Suit Riots.

World War II fueled a 1943 population influx into Los Angeles, California, that coincided with an increase in petty crime. White residents blamed Latino youth, who often wore distinctive, colorful garments known as “zoot suits.” Many members of the military stationed in Los Angeles were also hostile to wearers of zoot suits, which they view as an affront to wartime rationing policies.

With racial tensions high, the small conflict that began on May 30th sparked a violent and widespread riot as white sailors and soldiers spread through Los Angeles attacking Latino youth wearing zoot suits, beating them with belt buckles and ropes, and stripping them of their clothes. Law enforcement did not intervene in support of the Latino victims and instead charged them with vagrancy, while Los Angeles newspapers encouraged the violence and portrayed Latino youth as deserving of brutal treatment.

Critical observers, including those in the black press, rejected the crime-control justifications for the attacks and linked “zoot suit” violence to historical prejudice against people of color in the United States. A July 1943 article in the NAACP's Crisis magazine asserted that “Zoot Riots are Race Riots.”

Following the Zoot Suit Riots, similar incidents occurred in cities throughout the United States, as white members of the military and white employees of military contractors targeted black and Latino youth with violence. By one estimate, in 1943 alone, 242 instances of racial violence occurred in forty-seven American cities.

About EJI

The Equal Justice Initiative works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.

Learn more

About this website

Until we confront our history of racial injustice and its legacy, we cannot overcome the racial bias that exists today.

Learn more