Cesar Chavez is born on March 31, 1927, in Yuma, Arizona, to a poor Mexican American family. They run a farm, grocery store, garage, and pool hall. In the following years Cesar’s mother and grandmother teach him the spiritual practices of fasting, pilgrimage and penance.
The Chavez family is evicted from their land after losing their livelihood in the Great Depression. They become migrant farmworkers in Arizona and California.
Chavez quits grammar school to work full-time in the agricultural fields.
Chavez in arrested in Delano, California for sitting in the “whites only” section of a movie theatre. Chavez enlists in the Navy, where he serves for two years in the Pacific.
Cesar Chavez marries Helen Favela. Over the years, they have eight children. Chavez works as a ranch hand and at a lumberyard in San Jose, Calif.
Chavez begins studying Catholic Church teachings on social justice, the life and work of St. Francis, and the biography of Mahatma Gandhi, all of which have a profound impact on his life and work.
Chavez joins the Community Service Organization (CSO) in San Jose, California, and becomes an organizer in the Mexican-American community, spearheading voter registration drives and fighting racial and economic discrimination.
Chavez becomes executive director of the CSO, and moves to its headquarters in Los Angeles.
Chavez founds the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in Delano, California, with labor leader Dolores Huerta. The organization is dedicated to the rights of migrant workers, including establishing a minimum wage, securing health insurance, and bargaining collectively on behalf of farmworkers.
The NFWA, primarily made up of Mexican Americans, joins the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), primarily made up of Filipino Americans, who had begun striking against grape growers in Delano. This is the beginning of the five-year Delano grape strike. The strike receives much national and international attention. Chavez advocates non-violent means to achieve the union’s aims.
Strikes, picketing, boycotts, and marches, Chavez models his philosophy of non-violent civil disobedience after those of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dorothy Day of the Catholic Workers Movement.
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents start to follow Cesar Chavez. They suspect he is a communist and a subversive and keep him under surveillance for more than 7 years in a program that involves hundreds of agents.
Chavez leads the strikers on a 250-miles pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento, California’s capital. The pilgrimage ends on Easter Sunday. There they present a list of their demands. Several grape companies agree to meet the demands and sign a contract with the union. These were the first contracts for American farmworkers.
NFWA and AWOC merge, forming the United Farm Workers (UFW), which becomes an affiliate of The American Federation of Labor, Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).
Cesar Chavez leads a national boycott against the California table grape growers who will not sign a contract with the union. The campaign becomes known as “La Causa.”
Chavez goes on a 25-day spiritual fast to protest the violence being used against the striking farmworkers and to draw attention to their struggle. The act attracts enormous national attention and the fast reaffirms the movement’s belief in non-violence and Chavez’s spiritual commitment to the cause. On the 25th day of the strike, Senator Robert Kennedy, brother to U.S. President, John F. Kennedy and himself a presidential candidate, joins him at the end of his fast. Later that year, Robert Kennedy is assassinated in Los Angeles, shortly after meeting with Cesar Chavez.
Support for the grape boycott grows to 17 million people, including many political and civil rights leaders. The UFW signs a three-year contract with most California table grape growers and grape strikes and boycott end.
Chavez organizes a nationwide lettuce boycott. Lettuce and vegetable growers sign contracts with the Teamsters Union. The UFW protests the deal and Chavez and the UFW declare a strike and boycott of California lettuce. The act unleashes violence against the UFW carried out by the rival Teamsters Union.
A Bureau of Alcohol Firearms and Tobacco (ATF) agent reveals that his agency uncovered a plot to assassinate Cesar Chavez. The agent says his agency gathered evidence that agribusiness magnates in the San Joaquin contracted a leader of the Hell’s Angels to carry out the assassination. But the plot was delayed when the Hell’s Angel was arrested for another murder.
Chavez turns his efforts to Arizona, where restrictive farm labor laws deny farmworkers rights. Here, Cesar Chavez undertakes a 24-day fast in Phoenix.
Grape contracts expire. Instead of renewing contracts with the UFW, growers sign with the Teamsters Union. Major UFW strikes spread throughout California. Thousands of strikers and supporters are arrested and two strikers are killed.
The UFW organizes a strike against lettuce growers.
The California Labor Relations Act goes into effect, allowing farmworkers the right to boycott and bargain collectively. This is a historic victory for farmworkers, the fist of its kind in American history.
Under the new law the UFW wins a majority of union elections.
UFW contracts expire and living and working conditions for farmworkers decline. A cancer cluster among children emerges in the agricultural community of McFarland, California. Ultimately, 11 children in a 6-block radius are diagnosed with cancer.
Chavez declares a third grape boycott.
Farmworker Juan Chamoya dies after he’s sprayed with pesticides while working in a field in San Diego.
Female farmworkers report unexplained miscarriages. Other women farmworkers give birth to severely deformed children or children who develop cancer.
Chavez undertakes a “Fast for Life” to call attention to the health hazards farmworkers and their children face by exposure to pesticides. The fast is the longest hunger strike of his life. It lasts 36 days and severely weakens him.
Cesar Chavez dies in his sleep on April 23, in Yuma, Arizona. His funeral in Delano, CA is attended by 50,000 people.
President Bill Clinton awards Chavez a posthumous Medal of Honor.
California establishes a state holiday on Chavez’s birthday to honor him.
Cesar E. Chavez commemorative stamp is issued by the United States Postal Service.