From the Archives: Remembering Cesar Chavez

Feb. 2, 1979: Cesar Chavez speaks to members of the United Farm Workers during a rally in the Imperial Valley. The UFW was staging a lettuce growers strike.
(Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times)

March 31 is Cesar Chavez's birthday and a holiday in California, Colorado and Texas.

When Chavez died on April 23, 1993, staff writer George Ramos wrote The Times obituary published the next morning. He reported:

Cesar Chavez, who organized the United Farm Workers union, staged a massive grape boycott in the late 1960s to dramatize the plight of America's poor farmhands, and later became a Gandhi-like leader to urban Mexican-Americans, was found dead Friday in San Luis, Ariz., police said. He was 66.

Authorities in San Luis, a small farming town on the Mexican border about 25 miles south of Chavez's native Yuma, said the legendary farm workers' leader apparently died in his sleep at the home of a family friend.

"He was our Gandhi," said Democratic state Sen. Art Torres, a prominent Chicano politician from Los Angeles' Eastside, upon hearing news of Chavez's death. "He was our Dr. Martin Luther King.

"It's hard to find people like him who epitomized the spiritual and political goals of a people."President Clinton said in Washington, "The labor movement and all Americans have lost a great leader with the death of Cesar Chavez. An inspiring fighter for the cause to which he dedicated his life, Cesar Chavez was an authentic hero to millions of people throughout the world."

Indeed, to many, America's quest for equality for its ethnic and racial minorities had largely been framed in terms of black and white. Mexican-Americans, and Latinos in general, were largely ignored by politicians except at election time.

That changed when Chavez, the son of migrant farm workers, became the head of the UFW in 1965…

Feb. 1, 1979: United Farm Workers strikers await the arrival of Cesar Chavez in a field near El Centro, Calif. (Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times)
Feb. 1, 1979: Cesar Chavez talks with United Farm Workers members during a lettuce strike in the Imperial Valley near El Centro. (Steve Fontanini / Los Angeles Times)
Feb. 14, 1979: UFW President Cesar Chavez and his wife, Helen, at the Calexico graveside service for farmworker Rufino Contreras, who was shot to death in a lettuce field during a bitter strike. (Don Bartletti / San Diego Union)
Feb. 26, 1968: Weakened by a 12-day fast, Chavez is helped from a Bakersfield courthouse by union attorney Jerry Cohen, left, and Leroy Chatfield, a union aide. (R.O. Oliver / Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)
March 10, 1968: Sen. Robert F. Kennedy offers Chavez food during a special Mass in Delano attended by 6,000 people. Chavez ended a 25-day fast that he had undertaken to rededicate the farmworkers' movement to nonviolence. His wife, Helen Chavez, is at left. (Los Angeles Times)
Jan. 20, 1988: Chavez holds the short-handled hoe, a "symbol of suffering," during a news conference at MacArthur Park in a push to restore private-sector Cal-OSHA to state control. In November of that year, Proposition 97 passed, requiring the change. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
Aug. 21, 1988: Chavez passes a wooden cross to Jesse Jackson during a Mass to end the union leader's 36-day fast protesting use of pesticides on table grapes. This image was published in the Aug. 22, 1988, Los Angeles Times. (Larry Davis)
Sept. 15, 1967: Cesar Chavez, then director of the UFW Organizing Committee, walks the picket line in front of the Ford Motor Co. plant in Pico Rivera in support of striking United Auto Workers. With Chavez is Paul Schrade, UAW western director. (Bruce Cox / Los Angeles Times)
March 8, 1979: Chavez shows the effect of a hectic day in a UFW office. (Bill Varie / Los Angeles Times)
June 24, 1985: Chavez leads a march during a grape boycott rally near a supermarket at 3rd Street and Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. (Monica Almeida / Los Angeles Times)
Sept. 7, 1980: Chavez speaks at the 1980 United Farm Workers political endorsement conference held at Trade Tech College in Los Angeles. The union endorsed Jimmy Carter's presidential reelection bid. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)
Aug. 4, 1988: Cesar Chavez gestures to one of his granddaughters to behave during a Mass in Delano, on his 18th day of fasting against the use of certain pesticides on grape crops. (Jose Galvez)
April 29, 1993: The funeral procession for Cesar Chavez was estimated to be 35,000 strong and stretched three miles through Delano. Chavez died on April 23, 1993. (Robert Durell / Los Angeles Times)

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