Richard Chavez dedicated most of his free time after work and on weekends helping his brother, Cesar Chavez, organizing the United Farm Workers in its earliest years.
Richard was born on Nov. 12, 1929 on the Chavez family homestead in the North Gila River Valley outside Yuma, Ariz., where he grew up until the family lost the farm and became migrant farm workers in California. After a year working with Cesar in lumber mills around Crescent City, Calif. in 1950, Richard moved back to San Jose, where in 1951 he entered the carpenters union apprenticeship program. Moving to Delano, he worked on both commercial and residential projects, including schools and freeway overpasses. Richard began his activism with Cesar in the Community Service Organization civil rights group in 1952, and was president of Delano CSO chapter, which he helped form.
After Cesar Chavez began organizing the UFW in 1962, Richard Chavez designed the stylized black Aztec eagle that became the union’s iconic symbol. In 1963, Cesar convinced his brother to put up his house as collateral to finance a credit union for farm workers. Richard gave up carpentry in 1966 to labor full time with the farm worker movement. He was the first full time staff person for what today is the Cesar Chavez Foundation, providing extensive services to farm workers outside the workplace. Richard built most of the structures and improvements at the farm workers’ historic “Forty Acres” property outside Delano, including the park that was dedicated in his name during the 50th anniversary celebration of the Delano Grape Strike on Sept. 26, 2015.
His varied duties with the UFW included long stretches organizing the farm workers’ successful boycotts of grapes and other products in New York and Detroit during the 1960s and early ‘70s. He was in charge of administrating union contracts in 1970, and later negotiated UFW contracts and oversaw union bargaining. Richard was first elected to the UFW executive board in 1973.
He retired from the union in 1983, and worked building and rehabilitating multi- and single-family housing, including Chavez foundation affordable housing projects.
When he passed away on July 27, 2011, President Obama issued a statement calling Richard Chavez “a symbol of hope.”
(Photo of Richard Chavez proudly displaying a box of union-harvested table grapes from the Coachella Valley in 1970, after the five-year grape strike and boycott he helped lead. Photo by Bob Fitch)