César Chávez

He fought for the rights of America’s farmworkers.

On March 17, 1966, a group of farmworkers set out from Delano, California. They would march more than 300 miles to the state capital, Sacramento. Why? They were protesting the unfair treatment that farmworkers had been dealing with for generations. Leading the charge was César Chávez, a man who was dedicated to improving the lives of others.

All Illustrations by Dave Shephard

Difficult Times

Chávez was born in Arizona in 1927. When he was 11, his family lost their small farm and moved to California. His parents became migrant workers. They traveled from farm to farm, wherever they could find work. 

As a kid, Chávez worked in the fields to help support his family. After finishing eighth grade, he left school to work full-time.

Chávez and tens of thousands of others spent long days in fields, picking avocados, peas, grapes, and other crops in the hot sun. Many didn’t have access to clean water. Most were paid low wages, didn’t get breaks, and worked in unsafe conditions. 

Uniting Farmworkers 

Chávez was determined to end the struggles farmworkers faced. In 1962, he co-founded a labor union that later became the United Farm Workers. 

“It was all about fairness and respect,” explains Paul Chávez. He is César’s son and president of the César Chávez Foundation. “He said, ‘Once they see us as human beings and respect us, the rest will follow.’”

Chávez believed in using nonviolent methods to reach his goals. In 1965, he took on the owners of California’s grape farms. He encouraged workers to strike, or refuse to work. He also helped launch a boycott, urging people across the U.S. to stop buying grapes. Growers lost money and felt pressure to settle with the workers. To bring more attention to his cause, Chávez led the 1966 march to Sacramento. 

“When he marched, he inspired people to go out and exercise their rights,” Paul Chávez says. 

After a long battle, in 1970, the grape growers agreed to pay migrant workers better wages and to provide other benefits.

Finally, in 1975, thanks in large part to Chávez’s tireless work, California passed a new law. It gave farmworkers’ unions the right to bargain with employers for fair pay and better working conditions.

A Lasting Impact

Chávez continued to push for fair working conditions for all until his death in 1993. Since then, schools, parks, and even a U.S. Navy ship have been named after him. His birthday, March 31, is an official holiday in several states, including California. 

Paul Chávez says there’s an even better way to honor his dad.

“The best way to honor him is to make sure that his example is used in today’s struggles, to provide inspiration and hope to people,” he says. 

1. What detail in the text helps you understand what migrant workers do?

2. What are some nonviolent methods that Chávez used to bring about change?

3. What is the section “A Lasting Impact” mostly about? What is another good heading for it?

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