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Timeline: Zoot Suit Riots

1880s-1942 | 1943-1972


Defendants at trial

January 12: People v. Zammora ends. Five of the 17 defendants in the case are found guilty of assault and sentenced to six months to one year in jail, road camp, or the county farm: Andrew Acosta, Eugene Carpio, Victor Segobia, Benny Alvarez, and Joe Valenzuela. Nine are found guilty of second degree murder and sentenced to five years to life: Ysmael Parra, Manuel Reyes, Victor Thompson, Henry Ynostroza, Gus Zamora, Manuel Delgado, John Matuz, Jack Melendez, and Angel Padilla. And three are found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment: Henry Leyvas, Jose "Chepe" Ruiz, and Robert Telles. The 12 found guilty of murder are sent to San Quentin State Prison. In separate trials secured by their parents, five of the 22 indicted are acquitted: Joe Carpio, Richard Gastelum, Edward Grandpre, Ruben Pena, and Daniel Verdugo.

Spring: Clashes between servicemen and Mexican American youth occur up to two to three times per day.

Riot SceneMay: The Venice Riot. High school boys at the Aragon Ballroom complain that "Zoots" have taken over the beachfront. Soldiers appear at the ballroom claiming a sailor has been stabbed. An estimated crowd of 500 sailors and civilians attack Mexican American young people as they exit the dance. The fighting continues until 2:00 a.m. The police arrest Mexican American youth "for their own protection."

May 31: Twelve sailors and soldiers clash violently with Mexican American boys near downtown. Seaman Second Class Joe Dacy Coleman, U.S.N., is badly wounded.

June 3: Approximately 50 sailors leave the Naval Reserve Armory with concealed weapons to revenge the attack on Coleman. They target the neighborhoods near the Armory and attack anyone they can find wearing zoot suits -- giving birth to the name "Zoot Suit Riots".

June 4: Rioting servicemen conduct "search and destroy" raids on Mexican Americans in the downtown area -- whether their victims are wearing zoot suits or not. The servicemen employ twenty taxis to look for zoot suiters.

June 5: The rioting continues with attacks on all "pachuco"-looking males. A group of musicians leaving the Aztec Recording Company on Third and Main Streets are attacked. Attorney Manuel Ruíz and other Mexican American professionals meet with city officials. Carey McWilliams calls California Attorney General Robert Kenny to encourage Governor Earl Warren to appoint an investigatory commission.

June 6: The rioting escalates and spreads into East Los Angeles. Kenny meets with McWilliams regarding the investigation and creates the McGucken Committee. Chaired by the Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Joseph T. McGucken, the committee blames the press for its irresponsible tone and the police for overreacting to the riot.

June 7: The worst of the rioting violence occurs as soldiers, sailors, and marines from as far away as San Diego travel to Los Angeles to join in the fighting. Taxi drivers offer free rides to servicemen and civilians to the riot areas. Approximately 5,000 civilians and military men gather downtown. The riot spreads into the predominantly African American section of Watts.

June 8: Senior military officials bring the riot under control by declaring Los Angeles off-limits to all sailors, soldiers, and marines. The Shore Patrol is under orders to arrest any disorderly personnel. The Los Angeles City Council passes a resolution banning the wearing of zoot suits in public, punishable by a 50-day jail term.

June 9: Sporadic confrontations continue, but not at nearly the same intensity.

Eleanor RooseveltJune 18: An editorial in the Los Angeles Times reacts strongly to Eleanor Roosevelt's referring to the riot as a "race riot."

November: Ben Margolis Jr., representing the Sleepy Lagoon defendants, delivers a 508-page appeal brief to the Second District Court of Appeals.

November 4: The Citizens' Committee for the Defense of Mexican American Youth is reorganized as the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee. Carey McWilliams becomes the national chair and Alice Greenfield McGrath becomes the executive secretary of the new organization.


May 15: The Sleepy Lagoon appeal begins in the Second District Court of Appeals. Margolis makes oral arguments.

June: The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee begins selling Guy Endore's The Sleepy Lagoon Mystery to raise funds. More than 25,000 copies are sold within three months.

August 18: Manny Delgado, the first defendant released on parole, goes to work for the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.

Hank LeyvasOctober 2: The Second District Court of Appeals overturns the Sleepy Lagoon verdicts and Judge Clement Nye dismisses the case. Hank Leyvas and the others are released with their records cleared.


January 1: The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee officially disbands.


Hank Leyvas dies of a heart attack.


Louis Encinas commits suicide after a failed bank robbery.

1880s-1942 | 1943-1972

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