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, in Los Angeles, California, white soldiers targeted Latino youth in a series of violent attacks 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 viewed as an affront to wartime rationing policies.

On May 30th, a group of white soldiers got into a scuffle with some Latino youth -- but with racial tensions high, that small conflict sparked a violent and widespread riot. White sailors and soldiers spread throughout Los Angeles attacking any 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. "Zoot Riots are Race Riots," declared a July 1943 article in The Crisis, a magazine published by the NAACP.

Incidents similar to these riots later 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, 242 instances of racial violence occurred in forty-seven American cities in 1943 alone.

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