On this dayDec 03, 1970

Cesar Chavez Jailed For Leading Boycott On Non-Labor Lettuce

Image | Jay Dunn / The Salinas Californian

During the summer of 1970, farm owners in California’s Salinas Valley, with the assistance of the Teamsters Union, used coercive tactics to prevent Latino migrant farm workers from joining Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers union. In response, the United Farm Workers union organized a massive strike in the Salinas Valley.

As retaliation for participating in the strike, farm owners fired hundreds of Latino migrant farmworkers and targeted the workers with violence. Striking farmworkers and leaders of the United Farm Workers were attacked and beaten throughout the strike, and in November 1970, the offices of the United Farm Workers in the Salinas Valley were bombed.

As the strike continued, movement leader Cesar Chavez organized a boycott of lettuce produced by farms that had used coercive tactics against the United Farm Workers. The farm owners sought an anti-boycott injunction, which was granted by a Monterey County judge. When Mr. Chavez refused to end the boycott, he was charged with contempt of court for violating the injunction. On December 3, 1970, Judge Gordon Campbell sentenced Mr. Chavez to an indefinite jail term and warned him that “improper and evil methods cannot be used to achieve even noble objectives.”

Cesar Chavez spent twenty-one days in jail before being released on December 24, 1970. He was held in an isolation cell but received visits from Coretta Scott King, widow of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy. In early 1971, the California Supreme Court held that the injunction against the strike was unconstitutional, and Cesar Chavez's contempt conviction was overturned.

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