¡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 2)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #105-157123 (Part 2)
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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 documents, from March and December 1970 and February 1971, includes reports on Chávez's appearances at events in El Paso, Cincinnati, and Austin; a letter to FBI director J. Edgar Hoover; and a variety of newspaper articles related to Chávez's arrest for refusing to follow a court order to stop a boycott against Bud Antle lettuce.

In the first document, an FBI memo dated December 4, 1970, a confidential informant describes a meeting of the El Paso Housing Authority, which was held to give El Paso residents a forum to voice complaints about the Housing Authority. Chávez was present and the meeting and was given time to speak; in his remarks, he made no mention of the Delano grape strike. The report also included private comments by Helen Chávez, who observed that the Chicano movement was gaining prominence in places they had visited across the United States. The informant interjects on the subject of the burgeoning Chicano movement, saying that "activist Mexican-American groups seem to be drawn to César Chávez, have attempted to ride on his coattails." The report goes on to describe Chávez's stance on nonviolence.

The following document, dated March 10, 1970, is a letter from an individual, whose identity is concealed, asking FBI director J. Edgar Hoover for information about the Delano grape strike and on whether Chávez has communist ties. The following week, Hoover sends the letter writer a response, which includes general notes on the FBI's findings on Chávez.

A memo dated November 28, 1970, from the FBI's Cincinnati office, describes Chávez's arrival in that city to coordinate a boycott of the Kroger supermarket chain with local United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) organizers. The UFWOC had commenced a boycott against Kroger due to the company's refusal to purchase union-picked lettuce.

Subsequent documents include copies of newspaper articles detailing Chávez's arrest in conjunction with UFWOC's efforts to gain union recognition by boycotting Salinas-based grower Bud Antle. A Monterey County Superior Court judge had ordered an injunction against the boycott, but when Chávez refused to call it off, he was jailed on December 4 for contempt of court. A San Francisco Examiner article dated December 7 reported that Ethel Kennedy, the widow of farmworker movement ally Robert F. Kennedy, had visited Chávez in jail.

Additional newspaper articles from the Sunday Star (January 17, 1971) and the Cincinnati Post and Star (January 29, 1971) deal with the union's efforts to picket military bases due to the Department of Defense's continuing policy of purchasing lettuce picked by non-union workers. Richard Chávez, the younger brother of César Chávez who at the time was vice president of the UFWOC, was quoted as saying in the Cincinnati paper, "We would probably have Antle on the contracts now, but the military bailed them out."

The final documents in the series, dated early February 1971, report that Chávez had traveled to Austin, Texas, in order to make a public appearance in support of a labor strike against Economy Furniture Company.
 

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