¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #92-9831

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #92-9831
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The primary source document described below, which can be viewed by clicking the thumbnail at right, is part of a 1,434-page file on César Chávez and the farmworker movement compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) between 1965 and 1973. The FBI's surveillance of Chávez, which paralleled larger efforts to prove that protest groups of the civil rights era had been infiltrated by subversive influences, was unable to uncover any evidence of communism or corruption in the activities of Chávez and his followers.

The FBI's dossier on Chávez was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which contains provisions that allowed the FBI to withhold portions of the documents from public view. Indeed, many parts—and in some cases, entire pages—have been excised from the files. Nevertheless, the collection provides a compelling window into the efforts of the farmworker movement, as well as the values and methods of the FBI itself.

From March to June 1967, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) exchanged communications regarding efforts to organize farm workers in Rio Grande City, Texas. In June 1966, laborers and members from the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) launched strikes against melon farms in Starr County that lasted until 1967. The Texas Rangers deputized new sheriff deputies in order to maintain order and contain the union organizers, who attempted to convince workers and green card strikebreakers to join their aims for higher wages and bargaining rights.

In a memorandum addressed to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on March 15, 1967, Fred M. Vinson Jr., assistant attorney general of the Criminal Division, described newspaper reports of violence by individuals attempting to organize farm workers and requested the FBI examine related incidents to determine whether the acts merited an investigation under the anti-racketeering statute. On March 21, 1967, Hoover suggested Vinson review information the FBI had been collecting on UFWOC activities in Texas and California; his response included a note that no investigation was being conducted since "labor organizational activities" were not considered extortion according to the anti-racketeering statute.

On May 11, Rep. Kika de la Garza of Texas forwarded to Hoover a letter by a constituent who regarded the union organizers as "hoodlums" who were "engaged in un-American activities and have no regard for human rights nor property." Four days later, De la Garza forwarded two telegrams from other Texas residents who called for federal aid to contain the situation and put a stop to "labor agitators." In  letters dated May 16 and 19, Hoover informed de la Garza that the FBI had forwarded similar reports to the Department of Justice, who had not requested a formal investigation. Furthermore, Hoover recommended Rep. de la Garza advise his constituents to forward their complaints to Vinson.

On July 7, 1967, the FBI received a request to compile a memorandum on the situation in Rio Grande City for the White House.

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