"Zoot suiters," mostly Latino youths, line up outside a Los Angeles jail on their way to court to stand trial for various offenses connected with the Zoot Suit Riots, a series of conflicts with white military and police personnel.
Photograph by Acme Newspictures, Inc., courtesy Library of Congress

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  • On June 3, 1943, the “Zoot Suit Riots” broke out in Los Angeles, California. The riots were a series of conflicts between the white and Latino communities of the area.
     
    White military servicemen and police officers had engaged in sporadic conflict with Latino and African Americans in Los Angeles for years. The “zoot suits” popular with young men of color became a symbol of this conflict—many in the white community thought the flamboyant suits flouted wartime rationing of fabric. Many troops claimed to have been robbed and harassed by “zoot suiters.” Off-duty police calling themselves the “Vengeance Squad” joined military personnel in attacking young Latinos, beating them and stripping them of their zoot suits.
     
    By the end of the week, more than 500 Latino and African American youths had been arrested. The military confined all sailors and Marines to their barracks. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt wrote about the riots in her weekly newspaper column: “The question goes deeper than just the suits. It is a racial protest.”
     
    Although the Zoot Suit Riots were quelled fairly quickly in Los Angeles, the “racial protest” they inspired did not fade. Protests spread to New York, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Civil rights leaders such as Cesar Chavez and Malcolm X took lessons they learned during the Zoot Suit Riots and used them to organize their communities.
  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    arrest Verb

    to take into legal custody.

    barracks Plural Noun

    building for housing soldiers.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    Eleanor Roosevelt Noun

    (1884-1962) American diplomat and first lady (wife of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt).

    engage Verb

    to interact with.

    fabric Noun

    cloth.

    first lady Noun

    wife of the president of the United States.

    flamboyant Adjective

    flashy, colorful, and bold.

    flout Verb

    to mock or treat with distain.

    harass Verb

    to disturb or torment.

    inspire Verb

    to influence to act.

    Latino Noun

    having to do with people and culture who trace their ancestry to Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking nations of Latin America.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    police Noun

    local, state, or national government organization for law enforcement.

    protest noun, verb

    demonstration against a policy or action.

    quell Verb

    to satisfy, subdue, or put an end to.

    ration Verb

    to supply people with a fixed amount of food or another good or service.

    riot Noun

    large, violent, public disturbance.

    sporadic Adjective

    occasional and happening in isolated instances.

    symbol Noun

    something used to represent something else.

    troop Noun

    a soldier.

    vengeance Noun

    revenge, or the act of harming a person who has harmed you.

    zoot suit Noun

    man's suit with baggy, tightly cuffed, pleated pants; an oversize jacket with broad, padded shoulders; a long watch chain; and a porkpie hat.