Statement of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy on Cesar Chavez


Cesar Chavez breaks his 25-day fast in March 1968 by accepting bread from Sen. Robert Kennedy in Delano, California. Cesar's wife, Helen Chavez, is at left.

Courtesy of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs, Wayne State University.

As the Delano grape strike continued into 1968, signs of tension on the side of both growers and unionists were apparent. Throughout the strike, Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers (the union that combined the AWOC and the NFWA), found inspiration in the non-violent protests of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. by also practicing non-violence in their struggle against growers. According to author Marco Prouty, however, growers, at times with assistance from law enforcement, used violent means to breakup picket lines.

Chavez, who often used fasting as a means of drawing attention to injustice, began a 25-day fast in early 1968 to protest such violence. This fast ended in March during a visit from Senator (and soon-to-be presidential candidate) Robert F. Kennedy to Delano. Chavez met with Kennedy to discuss various social justice issues. Less than a year before, the UFW scored its first major victory when the DiGiorgio Corporation, one of the largest growers in the region, allowed for its workers to vote for union representation, with the UFW winning over the Teamsters. It was this victory that Kennedy would allude to during a speech he made in Delano March 10, which he called “a historic occasion,” and congratulated Chavez and “you who are locked with [him] in the struggle for justice for the farmworker, and the struggle for justice for the Spanish-speaking American.” He encouraged the UFW to continue to practice non-violent tactics to achieve their goals, and said that the government must provide a guarantee to collective bargaining, regulation of immigrant workers used as strikebreakers, and equal protection under the law. Kennedy would end his speech with the motto of the UFW “Viva La Causa” (“Long Live the Cause”).

RFK speech.pdf

Kennedy statement on Chavez
Courtesy of the National Archives

An assassin’s bullet in June would not allow Kennedy to live to see the end of the strike, but Chavez and the UFW would nonetheless follow his advice.



1. What role may have Kennedy’s March 16 presidential candidacy announcement played in this statement?

2. What political risks were involved in Kennedy’s endorsement of Chavez and the Latino farm workers?

3. Why does Kennedy stress the importance of non-violence to the farm workers?