¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #161-4719 (Part 1)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #161-4719 (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.

On September 15, 1966, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover sent a memo to the Bureau's field offices in Los Angeles and Washington, stating that the White House had requested an investigation of César Chávez because he was being considered for a staff position in the Lyndon B. Johnson administration. Chávez contacted the FBI and informed an agent that he was unaware of any White House job. However, the news of a possible Chávez appointment soon became public and sparked critical responses from growers and political opponents. According to The Los Angeles Times, some of Chávez's allies have said that they believe the White House position, which was never offered, served as a pretext for a continued FBI investigation of Chávez.

Hoover's September 15 memo instructed the Los Angeles office to "obtain Chávez's complete background, included names of close relatives and set out appropriate leads." Two days later, on September 17, the Los Angeles office sent back "preliminary information available through records" of a confidential source, which included such data as Chávez's place of residence; names of his family members; and his physical characteristics. Subsequent pages included details on Chávez's work with the Community Service Organization (CSO) and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA), noting that he left the CSO in 1962 because he felt it was not "activist enough." The document also names such Chávez associates as Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, Luis Valdez, and Marshall Ganz. Additionally, the Los Angeles office sets out leads for other field offices to follow; for example, it asks Phoenix to verify Chávez's birth and determine the identity of his parents and requests that St. Louis review his military service records.

In a letter dated September 22, the FBI informs the White House that Chávez had contacted an agent at the Los Angeles office and said he was unaware that he was under consideration for any White House appointment. Further, he said that he would not accept such an appointment if it would detract from his efforts in organizing farm workers and that he did not intend to leave Delano.

On September 23, the FBI relayed information that Kern County supervisor David Fairbairn sent a "scathing telegram" regarding Chávez's alleged White House staff position to several California congress members, of which he also provided a copy to a council of California growers.

In a memo dated September 26, the FBI instructed all of its field offices to suspend the Chávez inquiry, at the request of the White House, "until further notice."
 

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