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Grapes of Faith
The Maundy Monday Newsletter - This Week in History April 17 - 23.
It’s another Maundy Monday, and I hope you all had a nice weekend. I spent it in Charleston, South Carolina, and discovered some fascinating history stories I can’t wait to share in the coming weeks.
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Do you listen to podcasts? Have any favorites? Do you listen for entertainment or to learn something? I don’t think those ideas are mutually exclusive; in fact, both concepts are the foundation for Okay History.
I’ve been listening to podcasts more and more lately. I usually walk along the National Mall a few days a week, listening and learning something I haven’t encountered, or stupid sports stuff, because I need that break.
About a year ago, I listened to this Business Wars podcast episode on the Gallo wine brothers. An essential aspect of the story involves the labor dispute in the 1960s, where grape pickers from the United Farmer Workers (UFW) Union and the Teamsters Union fought over the contract to pick grapes for the large distributor owned by the Gallo brothers.
The UFW was led by organizer Cesar Chavez, who died in his sleep on April 23, 1993, at age 66.
Chavez was born in Yuma, Arizona, in 1927. His grandfather crossed the border in Texas in 1898 and ran a successful business, which enabled him to purchase a farm in the Sarona Desert in 1906. Cesar grew up in a modest surrounding, with a family devoted to Catholicism, and worked the land.
His parents would go on to purchase a few buildings surrounding the farm, but unfortunately, they fell into debt and had to sell off the properties.
In 1929, Cesar and his family moved into a storeroom owned by his grandmother, who, when she died in 1937, the Yuma local government seized and auctioned off many buildings she owned to cover back taxes. Her house and land eventually ended up on the auction block two years later.
Young Chavez was galvanized after this experience. He determined that the white power structure of finance and government systems committed an injustice by taking what little they had worked for. The system was against the people.
As the Great Depression set in, the Chavez family moved to California to pick various fruits and vegetables. Cesar joined the Navy in 1944 and was honorably discharged in 1946 and relocated to Delano, where he returned to a life as an agricultural laborer.
In 1947, Chavez joined National Farm Labor Union, and throughout the early 50s, he was exposed to nonviolent protest movements by Indian Independence leader Mahatma Gandhi. He also grew inspiration from St. Francis Assisi, a 13th-century nobleman who gave up his inheritance to live among the poor. He meshed the ideas to form his own ideology of fasting and fighting against corporate power.
Driven by his faith that the poor are a source of moral good for society, Cesar rose in prominence for organizing workers. By the 1960s, he founded the National Farmer Workers Association, which would become United Farmer Workers, and in 1965 would begin the boycott clash that I listened to on the Business Wars podcast.
Chavez was able to secure higher wages and the right to unionize. Over the next two decades, Cesar became an icon in the worker movement, using protests, hunger strikes, and boycotts to achieve his goals. In 1994, President Clinton awarded him a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.
Okay, let's highlight what else happened this week. Here's what I got:
1. London Bridge was sold to an American on April 18, 1968. As the nursery rhyme says, the bridge was falling down. Then rich guy Robert McCulloch bought all 10,000 tons of bricks for $2.5M and rebuilt it in Arizona. It’s a good thing we don’t tax these people more.
2. The Senate voted to sell Panama its Canal on April 18, 1978. In 1903 the US was authorized to build the Canal and completed the job in 1914. President Jimmy Carter pushed for treaties to be signed so Panama could gain control, which it did in 1999. I listened to an excellent podcast about the difficulties of building the Canal, but I can’t remember it. I think it was another Business Wars episode.
3. The siege on Waco began on April 19, 1993. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, 51 days had passed before federal agents descended onto the Branch Davidians Compound. Recently, President Last Ranked paid a visit to celebrate the conspiracy theorists and vow retribution against his enemies.
Cesar Chavez is someone that I admire greatly. Faith and works, foundations of the Catholic faith Chavez was so devoted to, are positive examples of what religion can do to achieve social justice for others. I still can’t believe that the phrase social justice is a bad thing, particularly among a particular set of Christians. What are we doing here, people?
One of the things I came across when researching Chavez was how he pushed the United States Conference of Bishops to approve the Constitution of the UFW. He had a private audience with Pope Paul VI, who publicly supported Chavez’s work for the migrant workers. Priests, nuns, and other clergy joined protests to increase wages and improve working conditions. I won’t get into it today, but I can promise you that the USCB doesn’t share Chavez’s ideas today.
I’m running an introduction sale until Memorial Day. If you are interested in unique history topics, then Even More Okay may be for you.
I hope everyone has a wonderful week, and I’ll talk to you soon.