Scope and Content
Title: McGrath (Alice Greenfield) Papers,
Date (inclusive): 1942-1992
Collection number: MSS 69
Alice Greenfield McGrath
1 legal box, 1 letter box,
2/3 linear foot
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research
Abstract: This is a small collection relating to the career of social activist Alice Greenfield McGrath. The materials document her
work as executive secretary with The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, which successfully worked to free 17 young Mexican-Americans
who were wrongfully convicted of murder in a racially biased case in Los Angeles, 1942-1944. There are photographs relating
to the case and the play "Zoot Suit" based on it. Also included is her FBI file, 1949-1968. McGrath's activism continued in
the 1980s with her work for justice in Nicaragua.
Donated to the Library by Alice Greenfield McGrath.
The collection is available for research only at the Library's facility in Los Angeles. The Library is open from 10 a.m. to
4 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Researchers are encouraged to call or email the Library indicating the nature of their research
query prior to making a visit.
Copyright has not been assigned to the Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research. Researchers may make single
copies of any portion of the collection, but publication from the collection will be allowed only with the express written
permission of the Library's director. It is not necessary to obtain written permission to quote from a collection. When the
Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research gives permission for publication, it is as the owner of the physical
items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by the reader.
[Identification of item], McGrath (Alice Greenfield) Papers, Southern California Library for Social Studies and Research,
Los Angeles, California.
Alice Greenfield McGrath was born on April 5, 1917 in Calgary, Canada, daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants. She grew up
in Los Angeles, California, and during the 1930s became interested in social activism. From 1942 to 1944 she was the executive
secretary for the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee. In this capacity she published a newsletter and corresponded with the men
who had been convicted in this case updating them on the activities of the committee working for their release. Another cause
she campaigned against was the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. She became the subject of investigation
by the FBI from 1949 to 1968. After a brief marriage to poet Thomas McGrath, she married martial arts instructor Bruce Tegner
and for the next 25 years wrote several books on and taught self-defense for women. She worked with Luis Valdez on his play
"Zoot Suit" based on the Sleepy Lagoon Case which, produced by the Center Theatre Group, premiered at the Los Angeles Mark
Taper Forum in 1978. Since 1984 she has been active on behalf of Nicaragua mainly in coordinating visits of Americans to examine
and report on the country's social and political situation. She has also worked since the 1980s on accessible legal services
for all in Ventura, California, her home for the last several decades.
The Sleepy Lagoon Case represents the first major victory of the organized Chicano community in Los Angeles. In August 1942,
a group of 22 young Mexican-Americans, members of the 38th Street Club, were accused of criminal conspiracy and murder of
a young man, also a Chicano by the name of Jose Diaz. In January 1943, 17 of them were convicted and sent to San Quentin prison
with sentences ranging from assault to first-degree murder. A report presented by Captain Ed Duran Ayres of the Los Angeles
Police Department influenced the grand jury proceedings greatly despite the lack of proof by the prosecution of any criminal
conspiracy among the club members. The report stated, among other racist statements, that Mexicans are inherently criminal
and violent and have no regard for life because they are descendants of the Aztecs.
Attorney Carey McWilliams and others organized The Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, formerly known as the Citizen Committee
for the Defense of Mexican American Youth, a coalition of labor, progressives, civil rights and community leaders. Committee
members were investigated by the California Committee on Un-American Activities charging that the committee was a Communist-front
organization. Attorney Ben Margolis headed the appeal and in October 1944 the conviction was overturned and all defendants
were acquitted. The Second District Court of Appeals unanimously reversed the decision of the lower court and concluded that
no evidence existed linking the Chicanos with the death of Jose Diaz. The court also stated that the trial had been conducted
in a biased manner and had violated the constitutional rights of the defendants.
Scope and Content
The collection includes a biographical folder on Alice McGrath (1943, 1978, 1987, 1992), her FBI file (1949-1968), correspondence
with some of the Sleepy Lagoon Case defendants, 1943-1945, issues of the newsletter "Appeal News" (nos. 4,7,9, 1943), and
photographs of Alice McGrath, the defendants, Carey Williams, Tom McGrath and others, and 1940s photographs of a 1989 visit
to Nicaragua. The collection includes two pamphlets: "The Sleepy Lagoon Case" with a foreword by filmmaker Orson Welles (1943,
2 copies) and "The Sleepy Lagoon Mystery" by novelist and short-story writer Guy Endore (1944, 1978) with illustrations by
Giacomo Patri and an introduction by Carey McWilliams. Also included are playbills and photographs from the 1978 Los Angeles
production of "Zoot Suit" by Luis Valdez.
Box 2 of the collection contains 2 copies the Appellants' Opening Brief prepared by attorney Ben Margolis.
Additional information on the Sleepy Lagoon Case can be found in the Library's Subject Files and Pamphlet Collection, and
the Video Collection holds a video entitled "From Sleepy Lagoon to Zoot Suit: The Irreverent Path of Alice McGrath".