Richard Chavez: From Carpenter to Civil Rights Leader

Richard Chavez was a carpenter who helped build a movement.

While Cesar Chavez was the face of the struggle to gain fair wages and treatment for California farmworkers, his brother Richard, who died Wednesday at 81 after complications from surgery, was crucial in helping build the United Farmworkers union, both physically and philosophically.

He not only helped plan the movement’s first headquarters, but construct it, clearing land and digging a well for the Forty Acres compound in Delano, California, which earlier this year was designated a National Historic Landmark.

Though he joined his brother in the fight for farmworkers fulltime in 1966, he had been an activist long before. In 1952, he moved to Delano, becoming president of the Community Service Organization, a Latino civil rights group.

As a UFW organizer, he planned grape boycotts in New York and Detroit in the 60s and 70s, according to a UFW bio, and negotiated and administered union contracts.

He retired from the union in 1983, but worked with the Cesar Chavez Foundation and Dolores Huerta Foundation as well as continued being in the building industry, constructing homes in Tehachapi and Los Angeles.

Richard helped his brother lead a historic strike of California grape pickers in 1965, marching alongside others from Delano to Sacramento’s state capitol building to push for fair wages. The strike lasted five years and garnered nationwide attention.

Other strikes and boycotts followed, including the largest farmworker strike in American history, the so-called Salad Bowl strike, which successfully pushed for the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which awarded farmworkers with bargaining rights.

But daughter Camilla Chavez told the Bakersfield Californian that one of his greatest achievements had been his family. He was the partner of UFW co-founder Dolores Huerta for 40 years, during which they had four children together, in addition to 13 other children they had from previous marriages.