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

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: Cross References File (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.

These documents from the summer of 1973 are related to the escalation of violence in the Coachella Valley in a dispute between the United Farm Workers (UFW) and the Teamsters union. The clash between the two unions was sparked when growers signed sweetheart deals with the Teamsters without elections after the UFW's three-year grape contracts came up for renewal. The ensuing strike and worsening violence promoted Chávez to call off the strike and begin a second nationwide grape boycott.

In a letter dated June 28, Democratic Party senator Floyd K. Haskell of Colorado wrote to Clarence M. Kelley, the newly confirmed director of the FBI, regarding the UFW-Teamster dispute. On behalf of his constituents who expressed their concern over the matter, Haskell wrote, "Positive steps should be taken to assume that the rights of the parties are not being infringed by the other parties." In a response dated July 5, acting FBI director William Ruckelshaus wrote that the agency would be unable to help due to the lack of indication that federal laws were being violated.

On August 14, the FBI's Sacramento field office reported that the UFW's legal department submitted a signed statement to the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division regarding an incident in which two individuals hitchhiking in Bakersfield were picked up by three Teamsters who said that they were going to "knock some wetbacks' heads in." According to the two individuals, the Teamsters told them to watch the news the next day for reports of violence that they had planned to incite.

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