¡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 2)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #161-4719 (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 stems from a September 15, 1966, memo from J. Edgar Hoover, in which the FBI director directs the Bureau's field offices to commence an investigation of César Chávez because he was being considered for a staff position with the Lyndon B. Johnson administration [File #161-4719 (Part 1)]. On September 26, the FBI instructed all of its field offices to suspend the Chávez inquiry "until further notice" at the request of the White House, and these documents show the results of the FBI's investigation to that date.

The first page shows a short item from The Washington Post, "Pickers' Leader Picked?", which reports on the speculation that Chávez was being tapped for a White House job. According to the report, the news was met by "puzzlement"; it also noted that an executive of the AFL-CIO suggested that the rumors were being spread by the Teamsters, a rival union, to discredit Chávez.

The following memo, dated September 26, makes note of a telegram sent to the California congress members by Kern County supervisor David Fairbairn in protest of the alleged Chávez appointment. The memo includes background information on Chávez, which describes him as characterized as a "controversial individual" with "left-wing" associates who had been called out as a communist at Delano city council meetings.

A subsequent memo from the FBI office in Phoenix reports that a name check on "Cesar Estrada Chavez" at the Arizona Bureau of Vital Statistics did not turn up any records but shows a match for "Cesario Chávez," born in Yuma, Arizona, to Librado Chávez and Juana Estrada Chávez.

A document dated September 27, from the Chicago field office, reports no available records to confirm Chávez's employment with Saul Alinsky's community organizing group Industrial Areas Foundation. On the same date, the Las Vegas office reports that it could not locate a marriage license for Chávez and his wife, Helen Chávez, in check of Clark County license marriage records from 1947 to 1949 (the couple was married in Washoe County on October 22, 1948).

On September 28, the FBI sent a letter to White House special assistant Marvin Watson, stating that it would discontinue the Chávez inquiry at the instruction of Mildred Stegall, an aide to President Johnson. In a memo from the same day, the FBI's Denver office reported that Chávez was in Denver on June 15, 1966, where he picketed the Rocky Mountain News in support of Corky Gonzales and spoke at a rally sponsored by the Crusade for Justice, Gonzales's Chicano activist organization. The memo's attachments include a Denver Post article describing the protest at the Rocky Mountain News and a speech by Gonzales against the Vietnam War.

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