Timeline: Cesar Chavez

by Borgna Brunner

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.


The Chavez family is evicted from its land after losing their livelihood in the Great Depression. They become migrant farm workers in Arizona and California.


Chavez quits grammar school to work full-time in the fields.


Chavez enlists in the Navy, where he serves for two years in the Pacific.


Chavez marries Helen Favela. Over the years, they have eight children. Chavez works as a ranch hand and at a lumber yard in San Jose, Calif.


Chavez joins the Community Service Organization (CSO) in San Jose, Calif., 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, Calif., with labor leader Dolores Huerta. The organization is dedicated to the rights of migrant workers, including a minimum wage, insurance, and collective bargaining.


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. It is the beginning of the five-year Delano grape strike, which received much national attention. Chavez advocated strikes, picketing, boycotts, marches, and other non-violent means to achieve the union's aims, modeling his movement on Gandhian philosophy. Dorothy Day of the Catholic Workers Movement and Martin Luther King's philosophy on civil disobedience were also inspirations.


The strikers march 250 miles from Delano to Sacramento, California's capital, to present a list of their demands. Several grape companies agree to sign a contract with the union. These were the first contracts for American farm workers.

That same year, the NFWA and AWOC merge, forming the United Farm Workers (UFW), which becomes an affiliate of the AFL-CIO.


Chavez leads a national boycott of California table grape growers, which becomes known as "La Causa." By the end of the boycott in 1970, 17 million Americans supported it, including many political and civil rights leaders. Robert Kennedy was a particularly strong supporter.

Chavez goes on a 25-day hunger strike, which attracts enormous national attention. The fast reaffirms his movement's belief in non-violence.


The UFW signs a contract with most California table grape growers, ending the strike. Chavez organizes a nationwide lettuce boycott.


Chavez undertakes a 24-day fast.


The UFW organizes a lettuce growers strike.


The California Labor Relations Act goes into effect, allowing farm workers the right to boycott and to collective bargaining.


Chavez undertakes a 36-day "Fast for Life" to call attention to the health hazards farm workers and their children face by exposure to pesticides.


Chavez dies on April 23, 1993.


President Bill Clinton awards Chavez a posthumous Medal of Freedom.


California establishes a state holiday on Chavez's birthday to honor him.