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.
This series of memos, spanning October 11–18, 1965, reveals details on the beginnings of the FBI's probe of Chávez and the farmworker movement. The FBI directs its field office in Los Angeles to conduct an investigation of individuals mentioned in a previous memo dated October 8 [File #100-444762, Section 1 (Part 1)] and also looks into the backgrounds of additional people said to be involved in the Delano grape strike.
The FBI's memo to its Los Angeles office, dated October 11, lists the following individuals as having "communist backgrounds": Chávez and Dolores Huerta of the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA); Dave Havens of the California Migrant Ministry; Larry Itliong and Ben Gines of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC); and Pete Manuel and Marcello Tansi, union leaders in Delano. The bureau directs the Los Angeles office to review their files on the aforementioned individuals and organizations and to carry out an investigation to determine the extent of their communist affiliations.
In a memo dated October 15, the FBI writes that an inquiry into Chávez indicates that he has a "clean background." However, according to an informant, a photo of Huerta—holding up a sign that said "HUELGA" ("strike")—had appeared in an October 2 issue of The People's World and not The Worker as previously reported. The photo was taken by Harvey Richards, a freelance photographer Chávez said he had hired to document the Delano grape strike. Additionally, the informant identified Wendy Goepel, a participant in the farmworker movement. Goepel had reportedly submitted the NFWA application that resulted in a $267,887 federal grant to help educate migrant workers.
The FBI turned to its files for information on Richards and Goepel. It noted that Richards had been identified as a member of the Communist Political Association in 1944; he was subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in 1957 and invoked his Fifth Amendment rights when questioned about this political affiliation. Additionally, the memo makes mention of Richards's wife, who was identified as a former Communist Party member in a HUAC hearing in 1957. The FBI's records also showed that Goepel, as a Stanford University student, had planned to attend the leftist World Festival of Youth and Students in Helsinki in 1962, though there was no record that she had actually made the trip.
On October 18, the FBI sent a memo to its Los Angeles field office to relay the new information on the Huerta photo, Richards, and Goepel.