The Sailor Riots of 1943

This document contains articles from the following sources:

  • New York Times, June 7, 1943
  • Los Angeles Times, June 9, 1943
  • La Opinion June 9, 1943
  • New York Times, June 10, 1943
  • New York Times, June 11, 1943
  • New York Times, June 13, 1943
  • Time Magazine, June 21, 1943
  • Official Memoranda (3)



Subdued and no longer ready to do battle, twenty-eight zoot-suiters, stripped of their garish clothing and with county jail barbers hopefully eyeing their flowing duck-tail haircuts, languished behind bars today after a second night of battle with of fleers and service men.

The arrests came after a "war" declared by service men, mostly sailors, on zoos-suit gangs which have been preying on the East Side as well as molesting civilians. Impetus was given to the clean-up campaign when the wives of two sailors were criminally attacked by the youths.

Cruising in taxicabs and cars, and occasionally spearing into enemy territory on foot in precise platoon drill, the service men routed the gangs, depriving them of crude weapons.

Deputy sheriffs and police riot squads patrolled the "No Man's Land," breaking up fights where possible.

Sixteen Mexican youths, all armed with some sort of bludgeon, were arrest-ed. They were said to have tried to keep Deputy Sheriffs Foster Kellogg and E. N. Smith from arresting one of their number.

The entire lot was booked in the county jail on riot charges after flying squadrons of officers arrived on the scene.



. . . Throughout tense hours last night the zoos-suit war was held to sporadic clashes by a combination of strong police patrols and a Navy order listing Los Angeles as a restricted area for men of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Nearly 1000 uniformed and special officers took up assigned positions throughout the downtown and East Side sections of the city at dusk. Others patrolled the streets in cruising cars, keeping a throng of sight-seers moving.

Crowds were dispersed almost as soon as they gathered and few youths in zoot suits were seen as groups of soldiers moved through the district with the watchful eyes of men looking for trouble.

One sailor, Harold Tabor, 32, was beaten by a group of zoot suiters at 103rd and Graham streets and treated at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital for a broken nose. George Lorigo, 19, of 9533 Wilmington Ave., was arrested on a battery charge in connection with the assault.

Lewis D. English, 23-year-old zoos-suit wearer of 844 E. Fifth St., was arrested by Officer R. F. Brady for carrying a 16-inch razor sharp butcher knife "for protection" and a 16-year-old lad was taken into custody for carrying an iron bar and a knife.

M.P.'s Patrol in Groups

Only a sprinkling of sailors was seen, however, as the ban ordered by Rear Admiral D. W. Bagley, commandant of the 11th Naval District, went into effect.

Admiral Bagley issued the "precautionary measure" as a result of clashes between Navy men and the youths.

Yesterday's incidents in the zoot war included insults hurled at Navy men in the Chavez Ravine area.... After shouting taunts and abuse mixed with dire threats, the youths sped away.

Earlier in the day police reported that Donald J. Jackson, 20-year-old sailor, had been knifed by a gang of youths at First St. and Evergreen Ave. shortly after noon, while his companion, James R. Phelps, 19, another sailor, escaped injury by fleeing.

The attack was reported to the Hollenbeck Heights police, who began a roundup of suspects in the vicinity. Jackson received a five-inch cut in the stomach and a slight cut on the head and was treated at the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, where his condition was said to be serious.

In the Monday night rioting which blocked traffic on S. Main St. and Broad-way for a time, at least 50 zoos-suit youths were beaten and, in many cases, stripped of their outer clothing.

In the police roundup which followed, more than 200 youths, only a few of them in coot suits, were arrested and booked in the Georgia Street Juvenile Bureau on suspicion of inciting to riot. Nearly 500 servicemen were taken in custody by military authorities and police but these were sent back to their stations early yesterday.



. . . The Coordinator of Latin-American Youths . . . informed us . . . that during a meeting in which the situation created by the riots between the "pachucos" and the marines was discussed, a decision was reached to send the following telegram to Mr. Elmer Davis, Head of the Office of War Information in Washington; to Mr. Alan Cranston, Head of the Division of Foreign Languages, of the same office, and to President Roosevelt at the White House. Here is the message:

Since last Thursday evening various groups of marines and soldiers have attacked Mexican zoot suiters throughout the city of Los Angeles. Although the youth did nothing to provoke the attack or for that matter to resist the attack, many were severely wounded, including women and children. Supposedly the attack has been motivated by past conflicts between the two groups and has been amplified by the press claiming that Mexican youths have been disrespectful toward the servicemen, a claim without any foundation.

Despite precautions taken on the part of the military police and local authorities to control the situation, the servicemen continue to walk the streets of Los Angeles armed with clubs and appear to be tacitly supported by many city and local officials in charge of keeping the peace; their attacks have now expanded to include blacks. This situation, which is prompting racial antagonism between the Mexican, Anglo-Saxon and Black communities will undoubtedly have grave international repercussions which will inevitably damage the war effort and thwart the gains made by the Good Neighbor policy. We urge immediate intervention by the Office of War Information so that it moderates the local press which has openly approved of these mutinies and which is treating this situation in a manner that is decidedly inflammatory.

Eduardo Quevedo, president of the Coordinating Council of the Young People of Latin America.

Approximately fifty people, including the members of the Council, attend-ed the meeting in which the decision to send this telegram was reached....



LOS ANGELES, June 9-There is no question of racial discrimination involved in the zoos-suit trouble here, Mayor Bowron told State Department officials in a telephonic conversation.

Following his conversation the Mayor issued a statement in which he said:

I have had a long-distance telephone conversation with the State Department in Washington relative to the local situation. I was advised that the Mexican Embassy  had called the matter to the attention of the State Department upon the basis of a report received from the Mexican Consul in Los Angeles.

I informed the State Department that assurances could be given to the Mexican Embassy that the occurrences in this city are not in any manner directed at Mexican citizens or even against persons of Mexican descent. There is no question of racial discrimination involved.

We have here, unfortunately, a bad situation as the result of the formation and activities of youthful gangs, the members of which, probably to the extent of 98 per cent or more, were born right here in Los Angeles. They are Los Angeles youth, and the problem is purely a local one.

We are going to see that members of the armed forces are not attacked. At the same time, we expect cooperation from officers of the Army and Navy to the extent that soldiers and sailors do not pile into Los Angeles for the purpose of excitement and adventure and v. hat they might consider a little fun by beating up young men ~ hose appearance they do not like.

We propose to handle the situation in such a way that there will be no reason for protests on the part of the Mexican Government.

At the same time, I want to assure the people of Los Angeles that there will be no side-stepping and the situation will be vigorously handled. There are too many citizens in this community, some of them good-intentioned and a few whose intentions I question, who raise a hue and cry of racial discrimination or prejudice against a minority group ever time the Los Angeles police make arrests of members of gangs or groups working in unison. They all look alike to us, regardless of color and length of their coats.

The police are going to do the job and I propose to back up the police.



By Lawrence E Davies

LOS ANGELES, June I0 - Service men and young zoot suit wearers engaged in new outbreaks today as State investigators, under orders from Governor Earl Warren, began probing for the basic causes of a week-long series of disorders which have placed Los Angeles "out of bounds" for most Navy personnel.

Robert Kenny, State Attorney General, with the aid of a dozen State investigators and a citizens' committee appointed by Governor Warren, began the task assigned by the Governor of "ascertaining all of the facts and then applying the appropriate remedy."

Meanwhile, there was no indication that Rear Admiral D. W. Bagley, commandant of the Eleventh Naval District, would countermand his order restricting liberty in this city for Navy personnel. He took this action on Tuesday afternoon as a result of dozens of retaliatory dashes between "zoos suit" hoodlums and Navy enlisted men.

C. B. Horrall, chief of police, declared that the situation was well in hand but about that time two "zoot suit" wearers at the Plaza had their pants stripped off by a group of sailors "just traveling through." Several other minor incidents marked the day.

The retaliatory action began about a week ago. According to one version, a small group of sailors was chatting with a group of young women of Mexican descent when zoot-suited friends of the girls intervened, brought reinforcements and routed the sailors. The sailors went after reinforcements and beat up the zooters. A series of retaliations followed. In some versions women did not figure.

By Monday night taxicab fleets of sailors were hunting for zoot-suit wearers.

Navy men emphasize, and police agree, that in most instances the sailors, aided in a few cases by soldiers, and sometimes by taxicab drivers, showed a spirit as of a college fraternity initiation. Petty officers were almost wholly missing. The uniformed participants were seamen who, for the most part, had been in the Navy from one to six months.



By Lawrence E. Davies

LOS ANGELES, June 12 -Punishment of the guilty in crimes of violence, "regardless of what clothes they wear, whether they be zoot suits, police, Army or Navy uniforms," was demanded today by a Citizens' Committee appointed by Governor Earl Warren to investigate the Los Angeles outbreaks of the last ten days involving "zoos-suit" wearers and service men.

Working closely with Robert W. Kenny, State Attorney General, the committee, headed by Bishop Joseph T. McGucken of the Catholic diocese here, declared that the streets of Los Angeles "must be made safe for service men as well as civilians, regardless of national origins."

"The community as well as its visitors," it stated, "must learn that no group has the right to take the law into its own hands."

The committee issued an eight-page report, with demands for immediate and long-range curative action, after hearing testimony for two days behind closed doors from city police  officials, representatives of minority groups, and persons active in social welfare work. Its members plan to meet again on Monday and from time to time issue supplementary reports....

Virtual calm prevailed all over the county during the day after a caravan of fifty-three "zoot suiters" had driven past the City Hall with flags of truce fluttering from the jalopies. Captain Joe Reed of the Police Department, after interviewing them, congratulated them on their frank attitude....

Race Prejudice Factor Cited

Governor Warren's committee found it to be "significant" that most of the persons mistreated during the recent incidents in Los Angeles were either persons of Mexican descent or Negroes.

"In undertaking to deal with the cause of these outbreaks," its report said, "the existence of race prejudice cannot be ignored.

"Youth is peculiarly sensitive. To be rejected by the community may throw the youth upon evil companions.

"Any solution of the problems involves among other things an educational program throughout the community designed to combat race prejudice in all its forms.". . .

[The committee] asked for additional facilities for the care and study of delinquent youth and described the problem as "one of American youth, not confined to any racial group."

"The wearers of zoot suits," the report went on, "are not necessarily persons of Mexican descent, criminals or juveniles. Many young people today wear zoot suits.

"It is a mistake in fact and an aggravating practice to link the phrase 'zoos suit' with the report of a crime. Repeated reports of this character tend to inflame public opinion on false premises and excite further outbreaks."



Continued disorder.

Hundreds of service men prowling downtown Los Angeles mostly on foot-disorderly-apparently on prowl for Mexicans.

Have by joint agreement with Army Provost Marshall declared following Los Angeles city territory out of bounds to all Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, and Army personnel: Main Street east to Los Angeles city limits.

All shore patrol are concentrated in the downtown area. Disorderly personnel are being arrested by shore patrol. Expect adverse publicity in morning newspaper.

Los Angeles Police have called in all off-duty men and auxiliary police to handle situation.

Naval Reserve Armory did not grant liberty. Men involved are from Marine activities, San Diego and El Toro, Navy activity composed of Roosevelt Base, Port Hueneme, and Destroyer Base, San Diego.

Situation under control at present except for widely separated incidents.

Groups vary in size from 10 to 150 men and scatter immediately when shore patrol approach. Men found carrying hammock clues, belts, knives, and tire irons when searched by patrol after arrest....

Senior Patrol Office will call District Patrol Officer at about 1000 today, June 8, 1943, if there is anything additional to report.



For two nights the mobs of soldiers and sailors had found poor hunting. In long caravans of cabs and private cars they had toured the Mexican sections, armed with sticks and weighted ropes, crashing into movie houses, looking for zoos-suited pachucos, the little Mexican-American youths. But they had found only a few dozen, and not all of them even wore zoot suits. They had broken the jaw of a 12-year-old boy. Said the boy, in the hospital:

"So our guys wear tight bottoms on their pants and those bums wear wide bottoms. Who the hell they fighting,  Japs or us?"

One Panzer division of the cab-and-car attack had rolled down a Mexican district side street, past the rows of mean, ramshackle frame houses. But they had only found a few victims to beat. One of them was a 1 7-year-old Russian boy, Pete Nogikoss, talking on a street corner to two Mexicans. The Mexicans fled. Pete stood still. The sailors beat him to the ground.

Scores of Mexican youths had been stripped of their pants (some of them on the stages of movie houses), beaten and then arrested by the Los Angeles police for "vagrancy" and "rioting." (The police practice was to accompany the caravans in police cars, watch the beatings and then jail the victims. Their orders apparently were to let the Shore Patrol and the Military Police handle the rioting sailors. The service police were futile.)