The  Fight in the Fields: Cesar Chavez and the Farmworkers's Struggle

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Cesar Chavez & the UFW Labor and Civil Rights


Sign: This park was given for white people only. Mexicans and Negroes Stay Out. Order of Park Board.

Japanese Mexican Labor Assoc. sugar beet strike, Oxnard, California. The American Federation of Labor (AFL) refuses to let the organization join if it accepts Japanese or Chinese members

1909 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) founded in response to the 1908 race riot in Springfield, Illinois, birthplace of President Abraham Lincoln

1913 International Workers of the World Wheatland strike near Marysville, California. The strike leaves four men dead

California passes law restricting “alien land purchases” to keep Asians from buying property

1924 Immigration Act bars entry to all Asians, leading to importation of workers from the Phillipines, an American possession

1927 Cesar Chavez born, Yuma Arizona, to Juana and Librado Chavez. He will be one of seven children

1935 Baby Cesar Chavez at Baptism
Baby Cesar at baptism.
The Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) is formed

1936 National Labor Relations Act takes effect, excluding farmworkers from protections enjoyed by other workers

1937 The Chavez family loses their store and farm, and becomes migrant farmworkers in California

CIO organizes shed workers in Salinas

Auto workers sit-down strikes lead to a contract at General Motors in Detroit

1942 Bracero program begins, authorizing the importation of Mexican workers under contract to do agricultural and railroad work

Faced with the threat of a Negro march on Washington, President Rosevelt establishes the Fair Employment Practices Commission (FEPC), and opens war industries to blacks

Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) is founded in Chicago by conscientious objectors James Farmer and George Houser.

1946 Cesar Chavez joins the Navy, serves 2 years in the Pacific

1947 The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and CORE organize the Journey of Reconciliation, the first freedom ride on buses in the south

Taft-Hartley act limiting labor organizing is passed by Congress over President Truman’s veto

1948 Cesar Chavez marries Helen Favela. They move to San Jose

1949 Paul Robeson’s concert in Peekskill, NY attacked by vigilantes

CIO expells nine progressive labor unions that refuse to expel Communists from their leadership

1952 Fred Ross recruits Cesar Chavez into Community Services Organization. Chavez becomes a community organizer, and rises to head the organization

1954 peach picker
Mrs. Wilson, Peach Picker, 1950's
Photo: Ernie Lowe
The US Supreme Court outlaws "separate but equal" schools in landmark case Brown vs. Board of Education

1955 Rosa Parks refuses to sit in the back of the bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Black citizens begin the Montgomery bus boycott, and Martin Luther King emerges as a leader

The AFL and CIO merge to become the AFL-CIO
1960 Black college students begin lunch counter sit-ins in Greensboro, North Carolina, leading to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC)

1961 1961 SNCC and CORE begin Freedom rides by bus through the south

1962 Cesar Chavez leaves CSO and returns to Delano, California to start the National Farm Worker Association (NFWA). He is joined by Dolores Huerta, Gilbert Padilla, Jim Drake and others

Dolores Huerta registering voters
Dolores Huerta registering voters
March on Washington, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech

1964 Three civil rights workers are killed in Mississippi during the Freedom Summer voter registration campaign of SNCC

1965 The Delano grape strike begins. The mostly Mexican NFWA joins mostly Filipino Agricultural Workers Organizaing Committee (AWOC)

Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audobon Ballroom in New York by men associated with the Nation of Islam

Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama

Voting Rights Act passed

1966 Farmworkers walk 300 miles from Delano to Sacramento in a pilgrimage that ends on Easter Sunday. NFWA signs its first contract with Schenley. NFWA and AWOC merge to become the United Farmworkers Organizing Committee (UFWOC)

Chicana with Don't Buy Grapes sign
1967 Striking farmworkers and supporters begin a national boycott of California table grapes

1968 Cesar Chavez fasts in Delano for 25 days. He is joined by Sen. Robert Kennedy at the end of the fast. The UFW campaigns for Robert Kennedy in the California primary

Martin Luther King is assassinated in Memphis Tennessee, while leading a garbage workers strike

Robert Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles California on the night of the California Presidential primary

1970 UFWOC signs three-year contracts with the Delano growers, ending the grape strike and boycott

Salinas lettuce and vegetable growers sign with Teamsters Union. UFW protests deal and declares strike and boycott.

Fiesta Campesina event poster
1972 The UFW admitted as full member to the AFL-CI.

Chavez fasts in Arizona against restrictive farm labor law. The slogan of his fast is Si Se Puede!

1973 When grape contracts expire, growers sign with the Teamsters Union. Major UFW strikes spread throughout California, with thousands arrested and two dead

1975 California passes the Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA), the first law recognizing the rights of farmworkers to organize and bargain collectively. The UFW wins a majority of elections

1978 The Teamsters Union withdraws from the fields

1981 President Reagan fires air traffic controllers

1982 George Dukmeijian is elected governor of California with strong support from agriculture. Enforcement of the ALRA slows

Cesar Chavez Stamp
1988 Cesar Chavez conducts a Fast for Life, his last and longest fast, in Delano California

1993 Cesar Chavez dies in Yuma, Arizona. His funeral in Delano CA is attended by 40,000 people.

Arturo Rodriguez is named new UFW president

1994 Cesar Chavez is awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor by President Clinton

UFW wins new contracts representing workers in rose, mushroom, strawberry, wine grape, lettuce and vegetable workers in California, Florida and Washington state

2000 California establishes a state holiday in honor of Cesar Chavez

2003 Cesar E. Chavez commemorative stamp is issued by the United States Postal Service


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