¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #157-15963

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #157-15963
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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.

This file covers United Farm Workers (UFW) activities in Chicago during 1969-1970, including demonstrations at a Kroger grocery store, a National Tea Company store, and the Dow Chemical Company sales office. Part of the UFW's grassroots efforts to bring increased public attention to the farm workers' cause, the goal of the Kroger protest was to garner additional support for the Delano grape strike by encouraging more Americans to boycott table grapes and to secure union recognition for grape pickers. Soon after the strike's successful end in 1970, Chávez and the UFW extended the boycott strategy against non-union picked lettuce, which was sold by the National Tea Company, and lettuce growers like Dow Chemical, whom strikers were protesting for better wages and improved living conditions.

A memo dated December 6, 1969, sent by the Chicago field office, described the Kroger demonstration as peaceful until a handful of picketers entered the store and blocked the produce counter, which resulted in the arrest of five college students for disorderly conduct; a sixth student was detained for interfering with the arrests. The FBI also observed that the signs at the protests urged for the support of farm workers and the boycott of stores selling California grapes.

Another memo, dated November 17, 1970, advised that a source had supplied information that Chávez would be in Chicago to lead a demonstration against the National Tea Company for selling non-union picked lettuce. In addition, Chávez had given a speech before Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), in order to gain that group's support for the UFW's lettuce boycott.

The final memo, dated December 8, 1970, deals with the UFW's December 2 demonstration at the Dow Chemical Company, where a group of about 20 individuals carried out a peaceful protest. Attached to the memo is a UFW pamphlet titled "Off Dow," which describes the organization's reasons for protesting against the company.

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