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Jun 29

Race tensions and bar riot San Luis Obispo, World War II week by week

A San Luis Obispo bar, Dante’s, was the scene of a fight that spilled out into the street that involved up to 200 African-American soldiers.
Eventually Sheriff Murray Hathway resorted to tear gas and extra military police were called out from Camp San Luis Obispo.
Bar owner Dante Chiesa refused service to men he said appeared drunk.
Soon more soldiers came in from the USO down Higuera street and demanded “If you can’t serve us serve our friends.”
One of the men in the crowd was reported to say “If you can’t give us liquor, give us water, but give us something to drink.”
Chiesa ordered an assistant to serve from the 12 cases he had on hand. About that time white officers who had observed the scene ordered the men back to camp. An argument ensued and the brawl went out into the street. Chiesa sent his civilian customers to a back storeroom as a brick came through one window and the other was smashed by hitting and kicking.

Race tensions may have led to a fight downtown in San Luis Obispo as reported in this June 25, 1943 Telegram-Tribune.

Race tensions may have led to a fight downtown in San Luis Obispo as reported in this June 25, 1943 Telegram-Tribune.


Though both negro and white military police and the fire department tried to break up the fight, bottle throwing shouting and threatening with clubs continued for half an hour until extra MPs arrived.
Just one week before there had been race riots in Detroit and the week before that the zoot suit riots had shaken Los Angeles.

A second day story lowered the number to 75 of 400 negro soldiers in the area involved in the fracas. It hinted that the paper had overplayed the incident the day before.
Camp commanding officer Col. Henry T. Bull said “The disorder at no times assumed the elements of a race riot, although one witness testified that someone shouted ‘race riot’ in the negro USO dance hall, and the soldiers went out into the street believing themselves to be attacked.”
“One dangerous element was that of a military policeman who pulled a pistol out without authority or necessity,” Col. Bull said. “He was placed under arrest by other military policemen and removed from the scene.”
Col. Bull said that as long as civilians obey civil police the military police will take care of the soldiers.

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