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FBI File on Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers

Identifier: LR000000_FBICC

Scope and Content

These microfilm rolls deal primarily with the 1960s, the period of the UFW's greatest growth. They will be iof interest to scholars and students in a number of areas, including twentieth-century U.S. history, labor history, the 1960s, social history, Mexican immigrants, and Chicano history. These rolls also provide one glimpse of the FBI's interest in supposedly subversive groups during the era, and whom the establishment found threatening.


  • 1960 - 1969


Language of Materials

Material entirely in English.


Collection is open for research.


Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.


Cesar Estrada Chavez was born to Mexican immigrant parents on their family farm near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927. During the Great Depression the family lost the farm and joined the thousands of other landless Americans as migrant farm workers wandering the southwestern United States. Despite a transient home life, the necessity of working in the fields to help support the family, and thirty different schools, Chavez did manage to finish the seventh grade. In 1938 his father found permanent work at a dried-fruit packing plant in San Jose, California, where Chavez was introduced to unions when his father organized the plant's workers. During World War II, Chavez served in the U.S. Navy for two years. After the war he married and settled in California, becoming a volunteer organizer for the Community SErvice Organizations (CSO) in 1950.

The CSO was organized by Saul Alinsky, a self-proclaimed "professional radical," to create a Mexican-American voting bloc. Chavez registered Mexican-Americans and helped them deal with government agencies. During this period he did much to fill out his limited formal education and to learn organizational and leadership skills. He idealized Alinsky's soical activism and absorbed Ghandi's teachings on nonviolence. Singled out for his leadership ability, he rose quickly in the organizaiton, becoming the California-Arizona regional director in 1958.

As a regional director, Chavez' attention was drawn to the plight of the migrant farm workers in the agriculturally rich area of California where he lived. Organizing these workers into a union seemed to offer the solution to many of their problems. When in 1962 the CSO board repeatedly refused to support Chavez's idea for a farm worker's union, he resigned. He moved to the Central Valley, and with a few others slowly built the National Farm Wokers' Assocation, today known as the United Farm Workers of America.

Chavez successfully merged the struggle for better working conditions for the migrants with improving their lives and standing in society, dubbed the hybrid "La Causa." Using traditional strikes and boycotts combined with nonviolent techniques, such as long marches and fasts, to generate publicity, Chavez successfully established a measure of stability and security for some of the migrants' lives. The union's struggles increased farm workers' wages throughout the country and made many workers eligible for medical insurance, pensions, and unemployment insurance. Above all, the union gave the workers a mechanism to challenge their employers.

The work of Chavez on behalf of the migrants resulted in him being closely examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His desire to form a union was not necessarily a problem; however, a number of factors brought him and his followers to the attention of the authorities in WAshington, D.C. First and most obvious was the race and class of Chavez and the migrants. Organizing and empowering poor mignorities inevitably led to radicalism and subersion in the view of the FBI dominated by Director Herbert Hoover, who saw Chavez's actions as an epidemic of empowerment movement in the United states during the 1960s. Second, was Chavez's close assocation with Alinsky, already a known radical. Third, the structure of and appearance of the union made it suspect: Chavez was the union. It is clear today that its success depended on his great personal charsima, thereby reminding those on gruard against Communism infiltration of the personality cults of the Soveit bloc. The union's rallies, with their great number of poor people singing and hundresds of red and black banners fluttering in the air, completed an image of subersion in the minds of the Bureau. Finally, the potential threat that a farm workers' union posed to the enormously powerfull and Anglo-controlled agribusiness of Calironia's Central Valley ensured tha tChavez would receive national attention.

In 1968, Chavez led a strike of grape pickers in the Central Valley. Marked by a nearly month-long fast by Chavez, and culminating in a nationwide boycott of table grapes that spread to Europe, the strike became an international cause celebre. One poll found that 17 million Americans had joined the boycott. The strike ended late in 1970 when the growers, under this tremendous economic pressure, agreed to a three-year contract with the union, thsu marking the high point of the union. Its membership peaked early in the 1970s, with approximately 20 percent of California's 200,000 farm workers under its banner.

Chavez died in 1993 in Arizona; he was sixty-six. The union that he founded has struggled to continue without him. He lived to see many of his accomplishments slip away as his union faced numerous problems, not the least of which were the constant arrival of new workers willing to work for any amount, and a nation that has turned its back on union action.

The grape pickers walkout was not merely a labor dispute. Chavez viewerd it, and the union, as part of the larger national drive for social justice that marked the 1960s. It was exactly this drive for social justice, or to overturn the status quo that frightened Hoover and led the FBI to begin a file on Chavez and his organization.


.25 Linear Feet (2 microfilm reels)


The work of Cesar Chavez, former President of the United Farm Workers, on behalf of farm migrants, resulted in his being closely examined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He was seen as possibly subversive in the 1960s for several reasons, such as his empowerment of minorities against a powerful and Anglo-controlled agribusiness and association with Alinsky, a known radical. The FBI records are microfilm copies published in cooperation with the FBI, and released under the Freedom of Information Act. They deal primarily with the 1960s, the period fo the UFW's greatest growth.


The material was filmed in the exact order and condition in which it was released, and is in approximate chronological order.

Existence and Locations of Originals

The documents reproduced in the microfilm are located in the Washington files of the FBI released under the Freedom of Information Act.

Related Materials

UFW collections

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Paul R. Beezley, Scholarly Resources, Inc. in 1996.
Guide to the FBI File on Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers
Processed by Paul R. Beezley, Scholarly Resources Inc.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

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Detroit MI 48202 USA