¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-57102 (Part 1)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-57102 (Part 1)
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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.

In July 1973, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) circulated documents related to their limited investigation into reports of violence by teamsters against members of the United Farm Workers (UFW) on June 28, 1973. The alleged attacks occurred while farm workers were picketing at the John Kovacevich Ranch, near Lamont, California. Like many farms and ranches in Kern County, Kovacevich Ranch had been the target of UFW strikes, where protestors often clashed with teamsters, strikebreakers, and local law enforcement.

On July 11 and 13 1973, Assistant Attorney General of the Civil Rights Division J. Stanley Pottinger sent a memo to FBI director Clarence M. Kelley and requested the FBI interview two witnesses and six victims, who had been  allegedly assaulted by 25 teamsters while Kern County deputies observed and failed to intervene. Pottinger also forwarded a letter and telegraphed addressed to Attorney General Elliot Richardson by two witnesses of the June 28 incident.

According to July 26 communiqués from the FBI's offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento, numerous attempts were made to locate the six victims, who appear to be scattered at different picket sites; though the bureau interviews several witnesses produced by the UFW, Helen Chávez was the only named victim to be interviewed. A July 28 teletype by the Sacramento field office stated that the individuals interviewed "conducted themselves in a gentlemanly manner," but they appear to be "used by [the] UFWU legal office, who have been most difficult to deal with."

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