|IntroductionIntroduction and commentary
by Hub Segur (aka Ojo Negro)
The images sent from the South around the world in the early and mid-1960s were riveting, challenging and inspiring. Many of us received our baptism into social awareness during this period but were restricted to local consciousness building and support activities. When segments of the California media began to recognize the significance of the farmworker organizing activity in the San Joaquin Valley, an opportunity for more immediate involvement became available to those interested. The unlikely center of this activity was the sleepy town of Delano, barely noted by travelers taking the inland journey from the Bay Area or Sacramento to Los Angeles.
Prior to the Grape Strike in 1965, little was known of the National Farm Workers Association even within the tight knit commercial agriculture community. The nascent strike, however, began to capture the attention of religious and labor leaders, students and other activists. Media interest picked up when Walter Reuther of the United Auto Workers came to Delano in December of 1965 and pledged UAW support and when, a few months later, a US Senate Subcommittee held hearings in Delano which lead to Senator Robert Kennedy’s public support of the grape strike. Freelance photographers, including George Ballis, John Kouns and Jon Lewis. were recording those events as well as the strike activity. Ballis published more than twenty images in Eugene Nelson’s Huelga (February, 1966), one of the first photographic depictions of the strike scene. The movement was strikingly visible and dynamic.
A week after Cesar Chavez broke his Fast for Nonviolence in March 1968, a friend and I had an opportunity to go to Delano and talk to Cesar and Jim Drake, promising to do some support work for the union in Ventura County. By February 1969, I had packed a duffel bag, stored everything else, and came on board full time with the union. My two “luxuries” were a small clock/radio and my second-hand Exackta VX 35mm SLR with a 135mm Steinheil lens. Some five years before, a friend had introduced me to basic photography dark room techniques so that I could at least develop and print.
The photos posted in this gallery follow my trail as a staff member with the Union, starting in Delano in 1969 at one of the weekly Friday Night Meetings in Filipino Hall in Delano followed by scenes around Delano. When I was assigned to the Los Angeles Boycott, I worked and roomed with a number of the Filipino brothers who had been farmworkers. The Filipino workers and their leaders, Larry Itiliong, Philip Vera Cruz, Andy Imutan, and Pete Velasco played major roles in developing the Union.
The Coachella March in May 1969 was an appeal to workers in Mexico to support the table grape strike. Marchers took eight days to reach the border town of Calexico and stage a unification rally. George Ballis joined us at the halfway point and I seized my opportunity: wherever George went, I followed and took the same shot. The following year the table grape growers signed contracts with the Union.
The Salinas lettuce strike during the summer of 1970 was perhaps the largest farm labor strike in California history with up to 12,000 coastal workers walking out of the fields, many protesting a “sweetheart” labor agreement signed by growers and Teamsters without their participation. In early December when the Union refused to shut down the lettuce boycott, Cesar was jailed for three weeks.
As the Lettuce Boycott gathered national momentum, Boycott Central was charged with supplying any and all information requested about lettuce. Photographs, some shot surreptitiously, were sent out to boycott offices across the US and Canada to help boycotters become more familiar with the crop and to use in informational leaflets to consumers. Ojo Negro emerged.
Boycott Central, essentially Marshall Ganz, Jessica Govea and the above Ojo Negro, was one of the first operational units to locate in La Paz, the new UFW headquarters, some sixty miles southeast of Delano. We arrived in the spring of 1971 and occupied an office directly below Cesar’s, which meant he would often check in with us at 8:30 or 9:00 in the evening for late news from the boycott cities on his way home.
La Paz grew. More units transferred into La Paz, others were created there. Cesar’s presence brought many visitors, some old friends, politicians, intellectuals, writers, international supporters, entertainers, old labor activists who hoped they might be welcomed. Coretta King was with us for a week and the Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Farm Labor met with the union leaders here. Anthony Quinn was naïve but interested. Senator George McGovern visited La Paz in September 1971 on the QT to feel out Cesar on a presidential endorsement, no publicity/pictures allowed. When a ranch committee three day later endorsed McGovern, Cesar was not happy, but everyone got in line for McGovern before long.
The final assignment of my first of two tours of duty with the union was pesticide research in Santa Maria, verifying the accuracy of reports filed by farm operators on usage of pesticides in accordance with state regulations. Santa Maria is on the Central Coast of California and does not identify with either the Salinas area or the San Joaquin Valley. Their isolation has produced a unique and interesting farm labor history. The UFW had not been successful in achieving contracts in the Santa Maria area but had built a dedicated cadre of supporters who kept the Union presence alive. Paulino Pacheco ran the Union office and the Flores family was the major support base. There was always some activity from informal meetings to park gatherings with speeches and visits from Cesar Chavez and others.
I had access to the La Paz darkroom and when time allowed, worked up 8x10 format prints that would be of general interest to the La Paz community. These would be posted in the hallway at the Administration Building and, sure enough, during the first two or three days, half of them would disappear. I had open requests, however, for numerous copies of a posed picture, taken at La Paz, of Cesar Chavez and the four Catholic Bishops which was titled, “Playing for Your Dancing Pleasure - Cesar and the Homeboys”. And would you believe it, some thirty-five years after the Coachella March occurred, the Smithsonian Institute bought one of my images from the Coachella March collection for inclusion in a Chicano music CD.
Thanks to folks who helped on selection and identification of the gallery photos: Susan Drake, Monica Flores, Vivian Lauer, Patty Proctor/Park