¡Sí Se Puede! Hispanic Heritage Month Spotlight on César Chávez & the UFW
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FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #173-9333

Title: FBI Surveillance of César Chávez: File #173-9333
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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.

During the summer of 1973, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted a limited inquiry into complaints of violence aimed at members of the United Farm Workers (UFW) by teamsters in Coachella, California. The UFW and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters entered a dispute over which union represented laborers in contract negotiations. On April 16, César Chávez declared a strike against farms that had signed contracts with the teamsters. In the subsequent months, UFW picketers frequently clashed with teamster guards, who were stationed to protect pickers from harassment by strikers.

A telegraph dated June 29, 1973, as well as other subsequent documents sent in late June and early July, include requests from individuals in San Jose, San Antonio, San Francisco, and Seattle, urging the FBI to investigate "illegal terrorism" by teamsters aimed at UFW protesters in Coachella Valley. In a July 11 letter to acting FBI director William Ruckelshaus, an individual, whose identity has been obscured, provided information on six cases in which teamsters attacked UFW members.

Reports by the Sacramento field office on July 3 and the Los Angeles field office on July 3 and 9 described the relationship between the UFW and the teamsters and altercations between the two groups. . Teletypes from the Seattle field office on July 6 and from the San Antonio field office on July 11, along with several subsequent documents, noted that agents had attempted to interview individuals who had requested an FBI investigation.

In a July 6 teletype, Ruckelshaus instructed the field offices in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Sacramento, and Seattle to gather information to determine if alleged complaints constituted civil rights violations, while stressing that the limited inquiry should not include a "general investigation of the long-standing dispute going on between the teamster-growers and the United Farm Workers-pickers." On July 20 and  31, FBI director Clarence M. Kelley responded to submitted complaints by stating that the FBI lacked jurisdiction to conduct an investigation because the information provided did not indicate violations of federal law.

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