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Cesar Chavez
Photo: Arthur Schatz/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Cesar Chavez

Biography
(1927–1993)
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Union leader and labor organizer Cesar Chavez dedicated his life to improving treatment, pay and working conditions for farm workers.

Who Was Cesar Chavez?

Born near Yuma, Arizona, on March 31, 1927, Cesar Chavez employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farmworkers and formed both the National Farm Workers Association, which later became United Farm Workers. As a labor leader, Chavez led marches, called for boycotts and went on several hunger strikes. It is believed that Chavez's hunger strikes contributed to his death on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona.

Early Life

Union leader and labor organizer Chavez was born Cesario Estrada Chavez on March 31, 1927, near Yuma, Arizona. Chavez dedicated his life to improving the treatment, pay and working conditions for farmworkers. He knew all too well the hardships farm workers faced. When he was young, Chavez and his family toiled in the fields as migrant farmworkers.

Labor Leader

After working as a community and labor organizer in the 1950s, Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association in 1962. This union joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee in its first strike against grape growers in California in 1965. A year later, the two unions merged, and the resulting union was renamed the United Farm Workers in 1972.

In early 1968, Chavez called for a national boycott of California table grape growers. Chavez's battle with the grape growers for improved compensation and labor conditions would last for years. At the end, Chavez and his union won several victories for the workers when many growers signed contracts with the union. He faced more challenges through the years from other growers and the Teamsters Union. All the while, he continued to oversee the union and work to advance his cause.

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As a labor leader, Chavez employed nonviolent means to bring attention to the plight of farm workers. He led marches, called for boycotts and went on several hunger strikes. He also brought the national awareness to the dangers of pesticides to workers' health. His dedication to his work earned him numerous friends and supporters, including Robert Kennedy and Jesse Jackson.

Death and Commemorative Holiday

It is believed that Chavez's hunger strikes contributed to his death: He died on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, Arizona.

In 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama announced that Chavez's birthday, March 31, would be recognized as a federal commemorative holiday.

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