¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-58258

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-58258
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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 August 1973, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) field office in Sacramento submitted complaints by members of the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) against the Kern County Sheriff's Office (KCSO). Since the mid-1960s, migrant laborers had launched strikes against farms and ranches in Kern County, California, in order to gain better wages and to secure union recognition for workers. During the summer 1973, picketers were frequently arrested for trespassing or for violating court injunctions that required them to maintain a certain distance from workers. Union organizers regarded such arrests as discriminatory and cited cases where sheriffs refused to arrest teamsters and strikebreakers who attacked and hospitalized strikers.

On August 13, 1973, the Sacramento field office notified FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., of a civil rights complaint from a UFW member against a KCSO sergeant for refusing to arrest an overseer of Kovacovich Ranch, who threw rocks at picketers. A subsequent transmission on August 15 noted that the KCSO had been cited in a similar complaint that occurred at Nalbandian Ranch on July 31. An August 15 letterhead memo included the full statement on the Kovacovich incident  made by the UFW member to the a FBI special agent in Bakersfield. According to the statement, the sergeant at the scene refused to believe a witness, a female UFW member, and did not permit them to make a citizens' arrest of the overseer.

On August 21, the FBI director forwarded the complaint to the assistant attorney general and stated that the bureau would not take further action unless the Department of Justice advised it. An October 23 transmission from the Sacramento field office indicated that the case status was closed.
 

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