¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #44-51593

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.

In early 1972, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) circulated documents related to an assassination plot against César Chávez, the director of the United Farm Workers (UFW) and leader of the migrant worker strikes against farms in Delano, California. At the request of the UFW, a representative of the United Auto Workers (UAW) initially contacted the FBI on January 26. Information about the murder plot was provided by Larry Shears, a former informant for the U.S. Treasury Department. Shears claimed that while undercover, he was approached by Richard Pedigo to help him kill Chávez, a task that Pedigo had received $30,000 to complete from Delano farmers.

Dated on January 27, 1972, a report by the FBI's Washington field office described a meeting in which UAW leaders, UFW attorney Jerry Cohen, and Shears informed the FBI of the plot. A U.S. Treasury Department voucher dated September 27, 1971, and a Treasury Department check dated October 4, indicated that Shears was paid $500 for providing information that identified Pedigo in arrangements for Chávez's murder.

According to a memo on January 28, 1972, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover passed the information to Assistant Attorney General David Norman of the Civil Rights Division, who responded with a February 7 request for the FBI to interview Cohen and obtain further information from Shears.

On February 11, the FBI's  Sacramento field office contacted Cohen to obtain cassette tapes conversations with Shears and attempted to interview Shears, who refused to provide further information due to advice from his lawyer. A February 16 transmission noted that Cohen had indicated the tapes were in the possession of Jacques Levy, a San Francisco writer who was writing a book on the murder conspiracy.

According to a February 18 report, the Sacramento field office had obtained ten cassette tapes and 374 pages of information from Levy. In an airtel sent on February 28, Hoover stated that the evidence was given to the Civil Rights Department. The document also contained an attached note that indicated Levy had been unable to "pin down Shears for concrete evidence" and that "Shears' allegations concerning the plot appear to be a complete fabrication."

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