James Lynn Drake was born on December 25, 1937 in Jefferson, Ohio but grew up in Oklahoma and finally moved to the Coachella Valley in California when he was 10 years old. Little is known of Drake's early years; however, he graduated from Occidental College and received his training from the Union Theological Seminary. Drake had plans of becoming a pastor for the National Park Service but was swayed by Chris Hartmire, another fellow minister and program director, to join the California Migrant Ministry, a group that worked closely with César Chávez's union of farm workers.
Over the next two decades, Drake assumed many important responsibilities with the UFW in California, Texas, and Arizona, though he always remained formally connected to the Migrant Ministry. Drake played in instrumental role in helping organize a "secondary boycott" of a national distillery, Schenley Distillers, during the Delano grape strike of 1965. Drake was a huge proponent of secondary boycotts, which aimed to draw national attention to local California valley boycotts by gathering support at the consumer level. The Schenley secondary boycott proved to be so powerful that it resulted in a settlement between the UFW and the company in March 1965. In 1978, Drake parted ways with the UFW over disillusion over leadership and increasing fracturing of the organization.
Following his involvement with the farmworker movement, Drake continued his life-long commitment to social justice. In 1978, he moved to Mississippi to organize woodcutters, establishing the Mississippi Pulpwood Cutters Association in 1979. A few years later, he moved to South Texas where he helped organize the Valley Interfaith Organization, which worked to improve the conditions for local Latinos who lived in substandard housing known as "colonias," which lacked both running water and plumbing.
In 1987, Drake organized South Bronx Churches, a coalition of more than 40 churches that joined forces to build 800 housing units and persuade the city to build a new high school, the Bronx Leadership Academy. In 1994, he helped form the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization—a regional coalition of 100 religious and community organizations.
Drake died of lung cancer on September 3, 2001, in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was 63 years old.
Pawel, Miriam. The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez’s Farm Worker Movement. New York: Bloomsbury, 2009; Griswold del Castillo, Richard and Richard Garcia. César Chávez: A Triumph of Spirit. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1995; Ganz, Marshall. Why David Sometimes Wins: Leadership, Organization, and Strategy in the California Farm Worker Movement. New York: Oxford Press, 2009.