¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #100-444762, Section 5 (Part 12)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #100-444762, Section 5 (Part 12)
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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 series of memos from April and May 1970 outline the details of a United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC)-organized march to and protest at the U.S. Department of Agriculture building in Washington, D.C. The march and protest, which began in Maryland, spanned a period of time from May 1 to May 3.

In the first memo, dated April 28, 1970, the FBI's field office in Baltimore relays information on the UFWOC's plans to carry out the march and protest. According to a source, the purpose of the demonstration was "to protest legislative and administrative obstacles to equal rights for farm workers," as well as to bring more attention to a nationwide boycott of grapes from non-union sources. The march was scheduled to begin at Columbia, Maryland, on May 1, leave Burtonsville, Maryland, on May 2, and resume at Jessup Blair Park in Silver Spring, Maryland, on May 3. From the park, marchers would continue on to a rally at the Department of Agriculture.

According to a follow-up memo on May 1, the FBI reported that approximately 185 marchers left Columbia that morning and arrived at Burtonsville at 6:10 P.M. Ninety marchers stayed overnight at Liberty Grove Methodist Church, while the remaining marchers were housed by members of the congregation.

The following day, the FBI reported that approximately 300 marchers arrived in Silver Spring, where they held a rally attended by civil rights leader Ralph Abernathy, who spoke against the policies of the Richard Nixon administration and the Department of Agriculture.

On May 4, the FBI prepared a letterhead memorandum that discussed the rally at the Department of Agriculture, where a group of 200 marchers—carrying UFW banners and chanting "viva la huelga" and "boycott scab grapes"—merged with another group of 500 to 600 demonstrators. Speakers at the rally included Cesar Chavez, Oklahoma senator Fred Harris, and representatives from the United Auto Workers.

 

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