Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Sleepy Lagoon Case

One of the critical events that led up to the infamous Zoot Suit Riots in L.A. was the Sleepy Lagoon murder case. In 1942, a group of young Latino men were charged with the murder of Jose Diaz. 17 were convicted of first degree murder. The case brought to light the deep racial tensions that flared up two years later with rioting in Los Angeles and other cities across the country.

In 1942, the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee was formed. It consisted of civic leaders, intellectuals and Hollywood luminaries such as Orson Welles, Rita Hayworth and Joseph Cotten. They first issued this pamphlet in 1943 before the riots. This third printing from 1944 recounts the Sleepy Lagoon Case and reflects on the riots in a new introduction. The pamphlet tied the tactics of the prosecutors to those of Germany, Japan, and Italy, making the case a microcosm for the war effort. What was at stake was American liberty:

We are at war. We are at war not only with the armies of the Axis powers, but with the poison-gas of their doctrine, with the "biological basis" of Hitler and with his theories of race supremacy....
     We are at war with the premise on which seventeen boys were tried and convicted in Los Angeles, sentenced to long prison terms on January 13th of this year. We are at war with the Nazi logic so clearly and unmistakably set fourth by Mr. Ed. Duran Ayres, the logic which guided the judge and jury and dictated the verdict and the sentence.
     And because this global war is everywhere a people's war, all of us are in it together, all of us together take up the challenge of Sleepy Lagoon.

Ask for Rare KF224.S495S54 to see this remarkable pamphlet.

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