By Teachers, For Teachers

The Zoot Suit Riots


The Zoot Suit Riots

In this lesson, students will learn about the history of the Zoot Suit Riots. By analyzing primary sources, such as newspaper articles, surrounding the events of June 1943, students will identify the role of media, racism, discrimination, and bias in igniting public violence.

Time: 2-4 hours

Grades: 9th-12th

Author: Sandra Garcia (Teacher Advisory Panel)

Resources Needed:

  • Collections in Context
  • Sourcebooks
  • Student Materials
  • Transcriptions (optional)

Lesson Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Identify some of the causes that led to the Zoot Suit Riots of 1943 and describe some of its events.
  • Analyze the role of bias in news reporting and its effect on public opinion and racial conflicts.
  • Examine some of the actions of public officials (including state and local leadership, police, military, and legal courts) before, during, and after the Zoot Suit Riots.
  • Infer how bias, racism, and injustice may lead to civil disturbances and make this connection to other events.

By the end of this lesson, students will know:

  • Los Angeles Mexicans, Mexican Americans, and other people of color, such as Black people and people of Filipino descent, faced persistent and severe racial discrimination that led to a series of violent riots in June 1943.
  • These minority groups found themselves under attack during these so-called Zoot Suit Riots, when white Angelenos and servicemen conducted a series of police-sanctioned rampages against them.
  • Bias news reporting and racist legal disparities also fueled the violence experienced by Mexicans and other people of color living in Los Angeles during the Zoot Suit Riots.

Supported Standards

History–Social Science Framework

  • How did World War II serve to advance movements for equality at home and abroad? “Wartime racial discrimination went beyond military segregation. Los Angeles Mexicans and Mexican Americans found themselves under violent attack during the 1943 Zoot Suit Riots, when the police allowed a rampage of white Angelenos and servicemen against them.” (“World War II and Movements for Equality,” California Historical Society)

History–Social Science Content Standards

  • HSS.11.7.5. Discuss the constitutional issues and impact of events on the U.S. home front, including the internment of Japanese Americans (e.g., Fred Korematsu v. United States of America) and the restrictions on German and Italian resident aliens; the response of the administration to Hitler’s atrocities against Jews and other groups; the roles of women in military production; and the roles and growing political demands of African Americans.
  • HSS.11.8.2. Describe the significance of Mexican immigration and its relationship to the agricultural economy, especially in California.

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.11-12.7. Writing. Research to Build and Present Knowledge. Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects to answer a question (including a selfgenerated question) or solve a problem; narrow or broaden the inquiry when appropriate; synthesize multiple sources on the subject, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.11-12.3. Speaking and Listening. Comprehension and Collaboration. Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, assessing the stance, premises, links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis, and tone used.