¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-43004 (Part 1)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-43004 (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.

This series of documents, from the spring and summer of 1969, include an FBI memo detailing alleged civil rights violations against striking farm workers in Phoenix, as well as articles from Arizona newspapers covering the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) grape strike. The UFWOC had been conducting a strike against Phoenix-area grape growers since June 17.

In a letterhead memorandum dated July 24, the FBI's field office in Phoenix relayed information regarding a letter sent to the U.S. attorney's office by Gustavo Gutierrez, the Arizona representative of the UFWOC. In Gutierrez's July 15 letter, he requested that the U.S. attorney's office open an investigation of civil rights violations against strikers and demonstrators by the Maricopa County Sheriff's Department. Gutierrez explained that the sheriff's office had engaged in the intimidation of farm workers and provided a list of nine specific examples of the types of harassment carried out by deputies. The UFWOC charged the sheriff's department with being partial to the growers in the labor dispute and also cited racism as a factor in deputies' actions towards strikers since almost all of the farm workers were Mexican American. In response, U.S. attorney Richard K. Burke requested that the FBI's Phoenix office conduct an interview with Gutierrez in order to determine whether there was a violation of federal law on the part of the sheriff's department. However, the Phoenix office declined to interview Gutierrez due to a lack of a "clear-cut violation of the civil rights statutes" and recommended that the case be routed to the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division.

The FBI's Phoenix office also included with its memo three newspaper clippings with information regarding the labor dispute between the UFWOC and grape growers. The first article, dated May 11, 1969, is a critical commentary from The Arizona Republic that questions the veracity of the grape boycott and claims that Arizonans who participate in it are "being used"; two other articles, from The Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette, provide reports on the impending boycott.

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