Cesar Chavez is best known as the founder of the United Farm Workers of America, AFL-CIO (UFW). He was a tireless advocate for nonviolent social change, and dedicated his life to working in service of others. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy called Chavez "one of the heroic figures of our time."
A second-generation American, Chavez was born on March 31, 1927, near his family's farm in Yuma, AZ. At age 10, his family became migrant farm workers after losing their farm in the Great Depression. Throughout his youth and into his adulthood, Chavez migrated across the Southwest laboring in the fields and vineyards, where he was exposed to the hardships and injustices of farm worker life.
After achieving only an eighth-grade education, Chavez left school to work in the fields full-time to support his family. He attended more than 30 elementary and middle schools. Although his formal education ended then, he possessed an insatiable intellectual curiosity, and was self-taught in many fields and well read throughout his life.
Chavez joined the U.S. Navy in 1946 and served in the Western Pacific in the aftermath of World War II.
Chavez's life as a community organizer began in 1952 when he joined the Community Service Organization (CSO), a prominent Latino civil rights group. While with the CSO, Chavez coordinated voter registration drives and conducted campaigns against racial and economic discrimination primarily in urban areas. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Chavez served as CSO's national director.
In 1962 Chavez resigned from the CSO to establish the National Farm Workers Association, which later became the United Farm Workers of America.
For more than three decades Chavez led the first successful farm workers union in American history, achieving dignity, respect, fair wages, medical coverage, pension benefits and humane living conditions as well as countless other rights and protections for hundreds of thousands of farm workers. His union's efforts brought about the passage of the groundbreaking 1975 California Agricultural Labor Relations Act to protect farm workers. Today, it remains the only law in the nation that protects the right of farm workers to unionize.
Chavez passed away on April 23, 1993, in San Luis, AZ.