The Legacy Of Cesar Chavez, American Labor Activist

Cesar Chavez holds a shovel across his shoulders while working in the community garden at La Paz, California, 1975. (Cathy Murphy/Getty Images)

After his family lost their farm in Arizona during the Great Depression, a young Cesar Chavez learned firsthand the struggles that migrant farm workers faced when it came to fair pay, protection from abuse, and workers' rights. After dropping out of school to work alongside his family in the Californian fields, he enlisted in the Navy to serve the United States during World War II and spent his early adulthood reading and learning history, which later served him well when he campaigned for basic rights for his fellow laborers.

After losing his job at the General Box Company in 1953, Chavez doubled down on community organization. He joined a Latino civil rights group called the Community Service Organization, where he worked for 10 years, eventually becoming its national director. That still wasn't far enough for Chavez, though; he believed the organization's focus on immediate issues rather than their underlying social causes was nearsighted. Lasting, large-scale change, he believed, required unionization.