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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Zoot Suit Riots: That Existed?!

Ok, so I am a history dork and proud of it. Since I got cable (for the first time in over 2 years), I have been enjoying my Military History and History channels. I have watched specials on Sherman's March and Spartans and a Civil War POW camp. While I think all of those are really cool, one thing that stood out to me was on a show called "10 Things You Don't Know: Civil Rights".

One of the 10 things on this show was about something called a Zoot Suit. If you do not know what it is, it is a oversized, multi pieced suit that could be pin striped or very vibrant colors. The outfit also usually included a tie, chain from the belt area and an oversized had, sometimes with a feather.  Some people today may even refer to it as a "Pimp Suit".

This suit was popular during the time of World War 2 and was worn by many different types of people. In the Southern California region, it was seen on a lot of different minorities and became associated with them.

None of this was a problem until some of the first soldiers from the war started coming into that area on their military leaves. The WW2 soldiers were from all areas of the United States, including the south, where suits such as this were not very common. This suit, seen on African-Americans and Hispanics, was seen as wrong to these southern soldiers, along with the intermingling of different minorities in clubs and dance halls.

These soldiers decided they needed to take the "problem" into their own hands and thus began the Zoot Suit Riots. Soldiers would find men dressed this way, usually Hispanic men, beat and strip him of his suit and deface or burn it in front of him. This lasted for a few weeks in Southern California but as the news spread, riots began cropping up in other cities across America, including Philadelphia, New York and Detroit.

It was later determined that these riots were not really about the suit so much as more of a racial issue. Why it took them so long to come to that conclusion, I will never understand, seems kind of obvious to me.

Why was I so interested in this random tid bit of history? Only because of one of my other passions; Music! A group called Cherry Poppin' Daddies (yes, that is their name) made a very catchy swing song called Zoot Suit Riot. I love the song and have known it for a very long time, however I had no idea it has such a historical content until I saw that show the other day!

Here's the beginning lyrics of the song:

Who's that whisperin' in the trees?
It's two sailors and they're on leave
Pipes and chains and swingin' hands
Who's your daddy? Yes I am

Fat cat came to play
Now he can't run fast enough
You'd best stay away
When the pushers come to shove

Zoot suit riot

throw back a bottle of beer
Zoot suit riot

Pull a comb through your coal black hair


Seriously, go listen to the song, it is awesome!!! And click on the links in the article to read more information on the historical event and the song.

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