by UFW on Sunday, January 15, 2012 at 8:43pm ·
Cesar Chavez had closely followed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s career since the 1950s Montgomery bus boycott. Whenever newspapers carried accounts of Dr. King’s battles in the South, the stories “would jump out of the pages at me,” Cesar would later recall. Dr. King reaffirmed Cesar’s commitment to nonviolent struggle and inspired the boycott of grapes and other products.
Although the two men never met, they corresponded. At the end of his life, Dr. King preached that genuine equality was not possible without economic equality.
“What does it profit a man to be able to eat at an integrated lunch counter if he doesn’t have enough money to buy a hamburger?” Dr. King declared.
Only one month before his death, Dr. King joined in solidarity with Chavez, who was then fasting for 25 days in Delano, Calif. to rededicate his farm workers’ movement to the principles of nonviolence practiced by M.K. Gandhi and Dr. King.
In March 1968, Dr. King sent a telegram to the fasting farm labor leader: “As brothers in the fight for equality, I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members…You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”
Cesar was in Sacramento, Calif. campaigning for Sen. Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential drive, when it was announced that Dr. King had been shot.
“The spirit doesn’t die,” Cesar said. “The ideas remain.” We study them and apply them, “and they’re alive.”
In the decades that would follow, Cesar Chavez would often be described as the Martin Luther King for Latinos.
King’s words to Chavez in 1968 still have meaning 44 years later as Americans observe some solemn anniversaries, including Dr. King’s birthday on Jan. 15.
On March 10, it will be 44 years since Cesar ended his 25-day fast for nonviolence with Bobbie Kennedy by his side.
On April 4, it will be 44 years since Dr. King was assassinated while supporting striking garbage workers in Memphis, Tenn.
On June 6, it will be 44 years since Sen. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles.
Some ideas never die, as Cesar said. If King and Chavez and Kennedy were alive today, what would they say about workers who suffer abuse and injustice?
What would they say to the big corporations that own the non-union farms, factories, hotels, office buildings and health care facilities?
They would say, ’Let your workers organize!’