Dolores Davies, UC San Diego
A rich digital archive documenting the UFW farm workers’ movement in Central California from 1962 to 1993 has been acquired by the University of California, San Diego Library. The archive, which was developed by LeRoy Chatfield, includes a wide variety of information on the activities, accomplishments, challenges, and work of Cesar Chavez and the farm workers who participated in the movement.
“In a world that has become increasingly digital, it makes perfect sense for libraries to acquire born-digital archives, especially when excellent opportunities like this present themselves,” said Brian E.C. Schottlaender, the Audrey Geisel University Librarian at UC San Diego. “Given the strengths of our collections in terms of California and Baja California history, the Farmworker Movement Documentation Archive is an outstanding addition to our holdings. LeRoy Chatfield has done a tremendous amount of important work in building this expansive website, and now, as part of the library’s collection, it will be preserved and made broadly accessible to future generations of scholars and students.”
The Farmworker Movement Documentation Archive, which now can be accessed on the library’s website, comprises thousands of items documenting the United Farm Workers’ (UFW) history and related events, including a timeline of significant milestones, oral histories, and manuscripts, as well as essays, and poetry penned by volunteers. Also included are 13,000 photographs, videos — including a short video on the farm worker union (NFWA/UFW) historic march to Sacramento in 1966 — and a variety of art and images of cultural artifacts such as stamps, posters, paintings and illustrations.
From 1962 to 1993, Cesar Chavez, founding president of the UFW, dedicated himself to organizing a farm worker movement in Central California. Although Chavez is renowned as an historic labor leader, Chatfield, a longtime Christian Brother and humanitarian who worked with Chavez from 1963 to 1973, said his vision began with but stretched beyond the workers in the fields.
“Cesar Chavez’s vision for the farm worker movement encompassed far more than organizing a union,” said Chatfield. “His status as a revered icon has less to do with his union activities than with the personal sacrifices, commitment to nonviolence, and deep religious conviction that marked his life of service to impoverished farm workers. I’m very pleased that his story — and the many stories of those involved in the farm worker movement — will now be maintained as part of the UC San Diego Library’s collections.”
Chatfield first met Chavez in 1963, and the two became close friends, bonding over their mutual commitment to and compassion for the farm workers who labored in the Delano, Calif., fields, picking grapes and other produce. Chavez asked Chatfield to work for him when the Delano Grape Strike began in 1965, and he continued to serve under his leadership until 1973, when he relocated to Sacramento.
Although Chavez’s death in 1993 brought an end to the farm worker movement, it reunited Chatfield with dozens of former UFW colleagues and brought back “floods of fond memories,” he recalled, “regarding my association with Cesar Chavez and his movement.” In 1994, Chatfield published a “private memoir” recounting his experiences with Chavez, "Cesar 1968," now part of the Farmworker Movement Documentation Archive site. After he retired as executive director of Sacramento Loaves & Fishes in 2000, Chatfield became inspired to document the farm worker movement, after reading a New York Times article lamenting the fact that the history of much of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s had gone undocumented, with many stories lost to the dustbin of history.
“Thousands of people were actively involved in the Civil Rights Movement but barely a fraction of their stories were told,” said Chatfield. “Because so much time had passed, their stories would never be told and preserved for future generations. This fact made me realize that I too had been immersed in a similar movement, and I knew at least 50 others like myself who had been involved. I realized I was well positioned to document Cesar Chavez’s farm worker movement and began to feel obligated to do so.”
"The Farmworker Movement Documentation Project is a labor of love and commitment accomplished by one man — LeRoy Chatfield,” said literature professor Jorge Mariscal, director of UC San Diego’s Chicano/a~Latino/a Arts & Humanities program. “But like the farm worker movement itself, one man stands in for the hundreds of dedicated contributors whose words and images live on in the archive. This will be a major research and educational tool for generations to come. Brian Schottlaender and the UC San Diego Library deserve high praise for acquiring this one-of-a-kind treasure trove of California history."
What started as the Farmworker Movement Documentation Project in book form, morphed into an online presence in 2004, when Chatfield was introduced to a young woman, Jennifer Szabo, who possessed the requisite Web skills needed to organize and present all the materials Chatfield was collecting in a digital format.
“I had amassed a large amount of farm worker movement primary source documents and materials,” said Chatfield. “Moving this project to the Internet enabled us to include oral histories, videos, photographs, artwork, cartoons and buttons — a veritable multimedia presentation of the farm worker movement, an historical documentation of a 31-year social movement and the largest website of its kind.”