Cesar Chavez Chronology

"One of the heroic figures of our time." -- Robert F. Kennedy

1927, March 31--Cesario Estrada Chavez is born on the small farm near Yuma, Ariz. that his grandfather homesteaded in the 1880s.

1937--After Cesar's father, Librado, is forced from his farm, the Chavez family becomes migrant workers in California.

1942--Cesar quits school after the eighth grade and works in the fields full time to help support his family.

1944--He joins the U.S. Navy during World War II and serves in the western Pacific. Just before shipping out to the Pacific, Cesar is arrested in a segregated Delano, Calif. movie theater for sitting in the "whites only"

1948--Cesar marries Helen Fabela. They eventually have eight children.

Late 1940s--He begins studying the social teachings of the Catholic Church.

1952--Community organizer Fred Ross discovers the young farm worker laboring in apricot orchards outside San Jose, Calif., and recruits him into the Community Service Organization (CSO).

1952-1962--Together with Fred Ross, Cesar organizers 22 CSO chapters across California in the 1950s. Under Cesar's leadership, CSO becomes the most militant and effective Latino civil rights group of its day. It helps Latinos become citizens, registers them to vote, battles police brutality and presses for paved streets and other barrio improvements.

1962, March 31--On his birthday, Cesar resigns from CSO, moves his wife and eight small children to Delano and dedicates himself full-time to organizing farm workers.

1962, Sept. 30--The first convention of Cesar's National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) is convened in Fresno, Calif.

1962-1965--Often baby-sitting his youngest children as he drives to dozens of farm worker towns, Cesar painstakingly builds up the membership of his infant union.

1965, Sept. 16--On Mexican Independence Day, Cesar's NFWA, with 1,200-member families, votes to join a strike against Delano-area grape growers already begun that month by the mostly Filipino American members of the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, AFL-CIO (AWOC). Thus begins the five-year Delano Grape Strike.

March-April 1966--Cesar and a band of strikers embark upon a 340-mile Peregrinacion (or Pilgrimage) from Delano to the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento to draw national attention to the suffering of farm workers. During the march and after a four-month boycott, Schenley Vineyards negotiates an agreement with NFWA--the first genuine union contract between a grower and farm workers' union in U.S. history.

Spring-summer 1966--A boycott of the struck DiGiorgio Fruit Corp. forces the giant grape grower to agree to an election among its workers. The company brings in the Teamsters Union to oppose Cesar's NFWA. The NFWA and the Filipino American AWOC merge to form the United Farm Workers and the union affiliates with the AFL-CIO, the national labor federation. DiGiorgio workers vote for the UFW.

1967--The UFW strikes the Giumarra Vineyards Corp., California's largest table grape grower. In response to a UFW boycott, other grape growers allow Giumarra to use their labels. So the UFW begins a boycott of all California table grapes. Meanwhile, strikes continue against grape growers in the state.

1967-1970--Hundreds of grape strikers fan out across North America to organize an international grape boycott. Millions of Americans rally to La Causa, the farm workers' cause.

February-March 1968--Cesar fasts for 25 days to rededicate his movement to nonviolence. U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy joins 8,000 farm workers and supporters at a mass where Cesar breaks his fast, calling the weakened farm labor leader "one of the heroic figures of our time."

Spring-summer 1970--As the boycott continues picking up steam, most California table grape growers sign UFW contracts.

Summer 1970--To keep the UFW out of California lettuce and vegetable fields, most Salinas Valley growers sign contracts with the Teamsters Union. Some 10,000 Central Coast farm workers respond by walking out on strike. Cesar calls for a nationwide boycott of lettuce.

1970, Dec. 10-24--Cesar is jailed Salinas, Calif. for refusing to obey a court order to stop the boycott against Bud Antle lettuce. Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert Kennedy, visit Cesar in jail.

1971--The UFW moves from Delano to its new headquarters at La Paz in Keene, Calif., southeast of Bakersfield. With table and wine grape contracts, and some agreements covering vegetable workers, UFW membership grows to around 80,000.

1972--The UFW is chartered as an independent affiliate by the AFL­CIO; it becomes the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW).

1972, May 11-June 4--Cesar fasts for 25 days in Phoenix over a just-passed Arizona law banning the right of farm workers to strike or boycott.

Spring-summer 1973--When the UFW's three-year table grape contracts come up for renewal, instead sign contracts with the Teamsters without an election or any representation procedure. That sparks a bitter three-month strike by grape workers in California's Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. Thousands of strikers are arrested for violating anti-picketing injunctions, hundreds are beaten, dozens are shot and two are murdered. In response to the violence, Cesar calls off the strike and begins a second grape boycott.

1973-1975--According to a nationwide 1975 Louis Harris poll, 17 million Americans are boycotting grapes. Many are also boycotting lettuce and Gallo wine after winery workers strike the mammoth Modesto, Calif.-based producer.

June 1975--After Jerry Brown becomes governor, the boycott convinces growers to agree to a state law guaranteeing California farm workers the right to organize and bargain with their employers. Cesar gets the landmark Agricultural Labor Relations Act through the state Legislature.

September 1975-January 1976--Hundreds of elections are held. The UFW wins the majority of the elections in which it participates. The Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), which enforces the law, briefly shuts down after running out of money and pro-grower lawmakers refuse to approve an emergency appropriation.

Mid-to-late 1970s--The UFW continues winning elections and signing contracts with growers. In 1977, the Teamsters Union signs a "jurisdictional" agreement with the UFW and agrees to leave the fields. In 1978, the UFW calls off its boycotts of grapes, lettuce and Gallo wine.

January-October 1979--In a bid to win decent wages and benefits, the UFW strikes several major lettuce and vegetable growers up and down the state. Rufino Contreras, 27-year old striker, is shot to death in an Imperial
Valley lettuce field by grower foremen.

September 1979--After a strike and boycott, the UFW wins its demands for a significant pay raise and other contract improvements from SunHarvest, the nation's largest lettuce producer. Other growers also soon settle.

Early 1980s--With election victories and contract negotiations, the number of farm workers protected by UFW contracts grows to about 45,000.

1982--Republican George Deukmejian is elected California governor with $1 million in grower campaign contributions.

1983-1990--Deukmejian begins shutting down enforcement of the state's historic farm labor law. Thousands of farm workers lose their UFW contracts. Many are fired and blacklisted. Fresno-area dairy worker Rene Lopez, 19, is shot to death by grower agents after voting in a 1983 union election. Cesar declares a third grape boycott in 1984.

1986--Cesar kicks off the "Wrath of Grapes" campaign to draw public attention to the pesticide poisoning of grape workers and their children.

July-August 1988--At age 61, Chavez conducts his last--and longest--public fast for 36 days in Delano to call attention to farm workers and their children stricken by pesticides.

Late 1980s-early 1990s--After recovering from his fast, Cesar continues pressing the grape boycott and aiding farm workers who wish to organize.

Spring-summer 1992--Working with UFW First Vice President Arturo Rodriguez, Cesar leads vineyard walkouts in the Coachella and San Joaquin valleys. As a result, grape workers win their first industry-wide pay hike in eight years.

1993, April 23--Cesar Chavez dies peacefully in his sleep at the modest home of a retired San Luis, Ariz. farm worker while defending the UFW against a multi-million dollar lawsuit brought against the union by a large vegetable grower.

1993, April 29--40,000 mourners march behind Cesar's plain pine casket during funeral services in Delano.

May 1993--Veteran UFW organizer Arturo Rodriguez succeeds Cesar as union president.

March-April 1994--On the first anniversary of Cesar's passing, Arturo Rodriguez leads a 343-mile march retracing Cesar's historic 1966 trek from Delano to Sacramento. Some 17,000 farm workers and supporters gather on the state Capitol steps to help kick off a new UFW field organizing and contract negotiating campaign.

1994, August 8--President Bill Clinton posthumously presents the Medal of Freedom--America's highest civilian honor--to Cesar Chavez. His widow, Helen, receives the medal during a White House ceremony.

1994-2000--Since the new UFW organizing drive began in 1994, farm workers vote for the UFW in 18 straight union elections and the UFW signs 24 new--or first-time--agreements with growers. UFW membership rises from around 20,000 in 1993 to more than 27,000. The Cesar Chavez-founded union organizes and bargains on behalf of major rose, mushroom, strawberry, wine grape and lettuce and vegetable workers in California, Florida and Washington state.

(Updated: April 2000)

--Chronology supplied by the United Farm Workers.