¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #105-157123 (Part 1)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #105-157123 (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 pages in the Chávez FBI files, from 1968 and 1969, include details of threats against the labor leader and President Lyndon B. Johnson; a letter to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover from an individual requesting an investigation of Chávez and the United Farm Workers (UFW); and a documents regarding a UFW-sponsored commemoration of the Delano grape strike in Washington, D.C.

A memo dated June 14, 1968, reported that Jerry Cohen, chief counsel of the UFW, relayed to the Kern County district attorney's office a possible threat against Chávez and President Johnson. According to Cohen, at a memorial march for Kennedy shortly after his assassination, a person named Juan Martinez was overheard saying that Chávez was "going down soon" and that he and Johnson "are the only two left and they would be gotten." This information was furnished to the Delano police department, the Kern County sheriff's office, and the U.S. Secret Service.

On June 5, 1969, the FBI forwarded to its Sacramento office a letter written to FBI director Hoover. The author of the letter, whose name was redacted, claimed that Chávez and the UFW desired to overthrow the U.S. government through revolutionary means and asked Hoover that the FBI conduct an investigation of the movement. The following month, an agent interviewed the individual, who was described as being "extremely concerned" that Chávez was a Nazi. However, when asked for evidence to support this claim, he stated that his conclusions were drawn from information he gleaned from the news regarding UFW activities to organize farm workers.

In August 1969, the FBI received word that a commemoration service in recognition of the fourth anniversary of the Delano grape strike, sponsored by the UFW and the AFL-CIO, would be held on September 7, 1969, at the Sylvan Theater in Washington, D.C. Following the service, which was intended to raise awareness of the grape boycott, participants planned to march across the Potomac River and hold a mass near the grave of Kennedy, a political ally of the farm workers' movement, at Arlington National Cemetery. The FBI's purpose in monitoring the service was to determine whether "subversive organizations and individuals" had infiltrated the demonstration. However, agents were unable to turn up any evidence of such subversions, and a memo from the FBI's San Diego office advised that no one affiliated with the Communist Party from that area had been known to participate in the UFW's commemoration service in Washington.

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