― 1 ―PARTLOW:
Just two years ago this month there began a trial in department 41 of the SUPERIOR COURT OF LOS ANGELES which ended 13 weeks later with the conviction of 17 Mexican-American boys for alleged crimes ranging from assault to first degree murder and sentences were given them ranging from six months in the County Jail to life imprisonment at San Quentin. It was the infamous Sleepy Lagoon Case. A disgrace to our city and our nation.
The CIO was among the first to recognize the trial for what it was—a bitter farce—where race hatred took the place of evidence.
Locally, statewide, and nationally, the CIO supported every phase of the campaign to gain the freedom of the boys so unjustly tried and convicted; because the CIO knew there were important issues on trial with those boys—the issue of equal treatment before the law of our minority groups—the issue of the preservation of our democratic practices, civil rights—the issue of the good neighbor policy.
President Roosevelt and Presidents Cardenas and Avila Camacho had worked hard to bring that policy to its most fruitful period. We of the United States must prove that the policy meant a meeting of minds and hearts, and a joining of hands of our two peoples. The Sleepy Lagoon trial was no way to do that.
And then, of course, there were those boys in prison for no good reason. Unless you can call being of Mexican extraction reason enough.
So the CIO worked with the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee as many others all over the country worked with the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee.
On October 4, this month, the District Court of Appeal rendered a decision in the Sleepy Lagoon Case. It was a smashing victory. The 121-page, unanimous decision of the Court of Appeals completely vindicated the stand of the Defense Committee. The High Court said there was absolutely no evidence to connect any
― 2 ―of the boys with the death of Jose Diaz. (Remember, that 12 boys had been convicted of murder of Jose Diaz). The High Court said there was absolutely no evidence to infer that there had existed a conspiracy among the boys. (The prosecution had based its reason for trying so many boys on the theory that there had been a conspiracy amont[sic] the boys, making them all guilty together) The High Court siad[sic] that the trial judge W. Fricke had materially injured the case of the boys on trial by his conduct of the trial. In effect the Appellate Court said he had acted not as an impartial judge but as a biased, prejudiced prosecutor—a really sweeping decision—and it left no basis on which the case might be retried.
So it wasn't too much of a surprise to us today when the case came up in the superior court before Judge Clement Nye and, on the motion of the District Attorney, the case was dismissed. Thrown out of Court. No Case!
I wish I could describe to you the jubilation there in the courtroom when the families and friends of the boys heard the case dismissed. But more, I wish I could describe to you the scene on the first floor of the Hall of Justice when the boys greeted their mothers and fathers and friends. Some of the parents had not seen the boys for a year and a half. I can only ask you to imagine the happiness, the embraces and the kisses, and the tears. It was a moving and wonderful thing to see.
Friends, I have three guests with me tonight. Three people who were very much involved in the Sleepy Lagoon Case. Believe Me. I can't think of three people who had more at stake in the case, who hoped more fervently for a successful conclusion to it. Hoping was all they could do. When you are behind bars you cannot do more than hope and wish and pray.
They are the three Sleepy Lagoon boys who were convicted of first degree murder and condemned to life imprisonment at San Quentin. Henry Layvas, Bobby
― 3 ―Telles, and Chepe Ruiz.
Henry, You've been free exactly six and a half hours. How does it feel?
Like being born again. Everythin looks so wonderful to me. I Have to keep telling myself its true.
What about you Bobby?
The same. I have to pinch myself.
And you, Chepe?
The same for me. I almost can't believe it isn't a dream.
You know, I had hoped to have you on our program. But I hardly thought I would have you here the first day of your freedom.
Well, Mr. Partlow, we couldn't wait to get here. All the time we were in prison we knew what people were doing for us. We used to say that if we ever got out we would want to thank every single person for helping. I don't suppose we will ever get to do that, but coming up here gives us a chance to thank a lot of people at once.
We know what the CIO did for us. It's only right that we should come up here first. Believe me, when you are in prison, you have a lot of time on your hands. We used to think about Judge Fricke and get mad. Then we used to think about the people who were helping us and it made us feel good.
What do you boys plan to do now?
We plan to get jobs and work right now. But I guess it won't be long before we go in the service. That's OK with me. I figure there's something to fight for now.
They can make mine the Army Uniform
The merchant marine appeals to me. My brother is in the army and he's in the Hawaiin Islands. Maybe I could deliver some of the goods to him.
I understand that you have clear records now, all your rights restored
― 4 ―Henry Leyvas:
That's right. My only beef is that I can't vote because I didn't get out in time to register. I wanted to vote for Rooosevelt. All I can do now is tell everybody I know to vote for him. The way I figure, if Dewey gets elected worsl things could happen thatn the Sleepy Lagoon Case, and without a happy ending.
Beofre we go, Mr. Partlow, I want to tell you that we speak for all of us, not just the three of us here, when I say that we are grateful to everybody who helped us. We will never forget it for the rest of our lives.
Well, boys, I'm sure our audience knows how you fell. But they ask no thanks. Winning the Sleepy Lagoon Case was just a step in the fight to end discrimination not only in our courts but in every aspect of American Life. We need your energy and your inthusiasm. That will be your wasy of expressing your thanks.
ALL AT ONCE;Henry:
We're with you
You can count on us