¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
Teaser Image

FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #100-444762, Section 1 (Part 3)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #100-444762, Section 1 (Part 3)
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.
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.

On October 20, 1965, the FBI's field office in Los Angeles sent an airtel to FBI headquarters to follow up on its investigation of the farmworker movement. While the Los Angeles office did not find information in its files regarding several individuals identified by the Bureau as having "communist backgrounds," it provided a letterhead memorandum with details about the Delano grape strike, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), Chávez, and others, which were culled from interviews with confidential sources.

Referring to Bureau airtels dated October 11 and 18 [File #100-444762, Section 1 (Part 2)], the Los Angeles office stated that its records did not have information on the following people and organizations: Larry Itliong and Ben Gines of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC); Pete Manuel and Marcello Tansi, union workers in Delano; Dave Havens of the California Migrant Ministry; Wendy Goepel, a worker with the NFWA; and NFWA secretary Dolores Huerta (identified in the memo by her married name, Dolores Clara Head). The Los Angeles office requested that the San Francisco office review its files for pertinent information regarding subversive activities on the part of these individuals.

The attached letterhead memorandum disclosed detailed information about events, groups, and individuals related to the farm workers movement, which the FBI obtained from nine sources whose identities were redacted. It opens by identifying the start of the Delano grape strike on September 8, 1965, and continues with a biographical profile of Chávez. The memo notes that the labor leader had been accused of being a communist at Delano city council meetings, and while the informant did not have definite information that Chávez was indeed a communist, he professed belief that Chávez did associate with "'left wing' type individuals." Such individuals included Sam Kushner of People's World, a news publication affiliated with the Communist Party, who was said to have spent a "considerable amount" of time with NFWA officials; in addition, the informant identifies on the picket lines "numerous outsiders" associated with the civil rights organizations Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality. The informant emphasizes that most of the picketers appear to consist of these individuals, rather than local farm workers.

Notably, on the eighth page of the memo, an informant illustrates the types of groundless suspicion that characterize much of the FBI's investigation of the farm workers movement. He divulges his opinion that Chávez's motivation in organizing farm workers was to "[make] a name for himself and to gain financially" and also raises doubts about Chávez's ability to manage a $267,887 federal grant to the NFWA because he heard that Chávez had only a grade school education.

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

ABC-cLIO Footer