¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-59048

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-59048
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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 and September 1973, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) exchanged several documents in relation to its investigation of civil rights violations reported by the United Farm Workers Union (UFW) in Kern County, California. The complaints stemmed from unrest and outbreaks of violence due to the ongoing UFW strike against local farms and ranches, as well as a labor dispute between the UFW and teamsters over which party would negotiate with growers on behalf of agricultural laborers with growers.

An August 24 memo to FBI director Clarence Kelley described complaints from Rep. Don Edwards of California over the handling of the civil rights investigation. In a September 17 letter to J. Stanley Pottinger of the Civil Rights Division, Edwards expressed disappointment that there were not more Spanish-speaking agents involved in the civil rights cases. A memo dated August 25, as well as subsequent documents, revealed discussion among Kelley, Pottinger, and other Justice Department officials regarding the assignment of more Spanish-speaking agents to California. An August 31 memo indicated that two Spanish-speaking agents would be temporarily assigned to assist the UFW cases in Sacramento in order to "forestall any adverse criticism."

In a September 14 memo, Assistant Attorney General Henry Peterson of the Criminal Division directed the  FBI to provide information related to violent incidents that occurred at Kovacevich Ranch on August 13, Guimarra Ranch on August 22, and Nalbandian Ranch on August 30.

According to a September 5 memorandum from Pottinger to Kelley, the UFW had agreed to present the FBI with photographs and motion picture film documenting criminal violations by teamsters. A report dated on September 24 described efforts to obtain the photographs and film from the UFW, which eventually released photographs to the FBI but refused to turn over film to anyone but the departmental attorney. The  report included seven UFW photographs of police officers and arrested individuals at a  picket site.

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