¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
Teaser Image

FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #161-4719 (Part 5)

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #161-4719 (Part 5)
Button: Click to display an enlarged version of the image.
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 document 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)]. In this section of the file, the Los Angeles field office relates information on the results of its investigation, which consists of a lengthy, detailed report on Chávez, his associates, and their activities through interviews with a large variety of sources who express their opinions on whether Chávez would be worthy to serve in government office.

The first part of the document contains a synopsis of the entire report, followed by a section on Chávez's personal background. This includes information on his education; his marriage to Helen Chávez; the names of his children and other relatives; past residences; and past work with the Community Service Organization (CSO), Saul Alinsky's Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). In an interview with a source who had known Chávez when he lived in Los Angeles, the source said that he had no reason to question Chávez's character and would highly recommend him to any position in the federal government. Other sources who had known Chávez at the time expressed similar sentiments.

In the document's section on Chávez's employment, a source who had known Chávez when he was the director of the Los Angeles CSO said that she felt he was a good leader and hard worker who had a respectable family. She went on to say that he had never associated with any communist organizations and that she knew he would oppose such groups. On the other hand, a source who had met Chávez when he was the Los Angeles CSO director criticized his physical appearance—"he always wore a turtle neck sweater and pants"—and though he did not know Chávez personally, doubted the labor leader's dedication to the United States due to his "agitation" of Mexican American workers over poor work conditions allowed by the U.S. government. However, subsequent interviews with those who knew Chávez personally commented very favorably on his character, loyalty to the country, and dedication to the cause of the migrant farm worker. Farm laborers who were members of the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFOWC) who did not know Chávez personally said that they felt he was "dedicated" and "tireless" in helping to improve conditions for farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley.

In a section labeled "Community Leaders," one source interviewed by the FBI criticized Chávez's work in Delano, saying that Chávez and his union "have defied law and order" by failing to secure a parade permit for a march organized in the city. After discussing a list of additional grievances against Chávez, the source opines that Chávez's efforts to organize farm workers in the area was a failure that "has resulted in nothing more than a campaign of name calling and pitting race against race." Additionally, he specifically names Luis Valdez and Dolores Huerta as Chávez associates of a "questionable background." Another source expressed his belief that Chávez was "merely a figurehead" who was not intelligent enough to lead such an organization as the UFWOC; conversely, a source who had spoken to Chávez on numerous occasions described him as "well read and knowledgeable in the field of organizing farm laborers."

Near the end of the document is a copy of an editorial from the Delano Record, published on September 27, 1966, which calls Chávez's proposed appointment to a White House office as an "absurdity." The document ends with an appendix that contains information on the activities such groups as the Progressive Labor Party and the W. E. B. Du Bois Club of West Los Angeles.

©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

ABC-cLIO Footer