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Cesar Chavez formed the National Farm Workers Association

Cesar Chavez, a labor organizer born in Arizona, formed the National Farm Workers Association in California in 1962. Cesar was 10 years old when his family moved to California as migrant workers. He was appalled at the working conditions that poor farmhands had to endure, and began to speak out about the problem in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The California farmworkers, who had been protesting conditions since the 1930s, wanted to form a union and responded enthusiastically to his leadership.

In 1965 angry grape pickers began to picket vineyards in Delano. Chavez led the grape strikers in 1966 on a 300-mile protest march to Sacramento. For five years Chavez helped to organize strikes by farmworkers and a boycott of table grapes. Finally, in 1970, the farm owners agreed to give his workers a higher wage of $1.70 per hour.

The National Farm Workers changed its name in 1966 when it merged with an AFL-CIO group, and again in 1973 when it became the United Farm Workers of America. The name of Cesar Chavez became a rallying cry for many social protest movements of the 1960s. More boycotts of grapes and lettuce followed in the 1970s. In 1977 he reached an agreement with his rival, the Teamsters Union, in which the United Farm Workers union was allowed to represent field workers. Chavez died in 1993.

California became the state with the largest population

During the decade of the 1960s, California’s population surpassed that of New York, making California the most populous state in the U.S. From the beginning of the 1900s, California had been growing twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Southern California, particularly, had population booms brought by the citrus-growing industry, oil production, the movie industry, and tourism.

World War II created another population surge. Between 1940 and 1970, the population of California almost tripled, from about 6.9 million in 1940 to almost 20 million in 1970, a growth rate not seen before in the history of the nation. This was due primarily to the many thousands of Americans moving to California from the Midwest in search of post-World War II jobs. Others came north from Mexico, east from China, Japan, and other Pacific Rim countries, and even south from rural areas in Oregon, Washington, and Canada.  By 1970, close to 10% of the people in the U.S. lived in California.

Free Speech Movement began era of student protests at U.C. Berkeley

In the mid-1960s, the University of California at Berkeley became the center for student protests known as the Free Speech Movement. There were also protest rallies at other college campuses in the state. At first, students were protesting because they wanted to have more say in how the univerity was run and the classes offered. Then young people in Berkeley and San Francisco began speaking out on many concerns. Students protested unfair treatment of African-Americans, the military draft and the seemingly-unwinnable war in Vietnam, and the powerless condition of women.

Sit-ins, in which students would sit in a hall or building and refuse to move, became widespread on campus in 1964. Late that year the governor ordered state police to break up a sit-in. More than 700 young people were taken out of Sproul Hall on the U.C. campus, and put in jail. Some 600 of them were found guilty of trespassing and resisting arrest. Rioters blocked the Oakland Induction Center, where U.S. Army recruits were gathered, and burned their draft cards. Turning to folk-singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as heroes, many students felt that adults did not understand their concerns. San Francisco remained a gathering place for hippies and activists until the end of the Vietnam War and the general acceptance of civil rights for women and minorities.

Rioting took place in the African-American community of Watts

In August of 1965, black residents of the Watts district in southeast Los Angeles rioted to protest the unfair conditions under which they lived. Watts was a low-income area, and a place of much unrest throughout the 1960s. Although black leaders were becoming more powerful (in 1968 Tom Bradley would be elected mayor of Los Angeles), at the same time segregation and discrimination were increasing. In 1964 California voters passed a proposition which made it legal to refuse to rent housing to someone because of their race.

The August riots of 1965 lasted six days. Hundreds of residents looted stores, set fires, and shot at firefighters and police. National Guard troops were ordered to the area to restore order. In all 34 people were killed and over 600 wounded, and more than $40 million damage done. Some 4,000 people were arrested. Although the Watts riots received national attention, few changes were made to improve civil rights until years later. Nevertheless the Watts riots are remembered as a landmark of the civil rights movement.


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