While labor organizer Cesar Chavez languished in a Monterey County (California) jail last month, he and Salinas Valley grower-shipper Bud Antle announced that a committee of prominent clergymen had been picked to mediate the nationwide lettuce boycott.

Church involvement in the farm labor movement has been extensive, and Cesar’s latest crusade is no exception. The Reverend Eugene Boyle, chairman of the Commission of Social Justice of the Roman Catholic archdiocese of San Francisco, announced the mediation effort would include representatives of the Catholic Church, the American Hebrew Congregation, and the United Methodist Board of Missions.

Chavez’s ten-day sentence marked the first time the Mexican-American leader has been jailed during his five-year crusade to organize the agricultural workers of the nation. A Monterey County superior judge found him and his United Farm Workers’ Organizing Committee (UFWOC) in contempt of a preliminary injunction enjoining them from boycotting products of Bud Antle, Incorporated, Salinas Valley’s largest independent grower-shipper. Chavez was ordered imprisoned until he ended all UFWOC boycotting. He has also called for a boycott of Dow Chemical.

Chavez’s court appearance and jail stay brought out at least 2,000 supporters. Most of them were Mexican-American field workers, who, led by Catholic priests, stood in silent vigil or knelt in prayer repeating the Rosary in Spanish. Many demonstrators carried the red UFWOC flag emblazoned with the black Aztec eagle. An altar with the emblem of Our Lady of Guadaloupe, surrounded by vigil candles and flowers, was set up in a street near the jail.

A dramatic confrontation occurred when Ethel Kennedy joined a candlelit march to the courthouse, participated in an outdoor Mass, and then briefly visited Chavez inside the jail. The widow of Robert Kennedy was escorted there by Rafer Johnson, onetime Olympic decathalon champion. (Meanwhile, the National Coalition of American Nuns announced its continued support of Chavez and the lettuce boycott.)

But across the street from the jail some 200 Chavez opponents, many carrying American flags, chanted, “Ethel, go home!” Placards bore such slogans as “Chavez Flouts the Law” and “Reds, Lettuce Alone.”

Church involvement in the California farm labor movement received early attention from the California Migrant Ministry, headed by the Reverend Wayne C. Hartmire, Jr., who has been supporting UFWOC since the first days of the Delano strike in 1965 (see August 18, 1967, issue, page 44). The Northern California-Nevada Council of Churches and the National Council of Churches are affiliated with the California Migrant Ministry. Thirteen CMM staffers work full time with Chavez’s people in strike or boycott situations, supported by Protestant church contributions.

Article continues below

The Roman Catholic Church has only one full-time staff worker attached to the UFWOC: the Reverend David O. Duran. He has been assigned to head the mission at the forty-acre UFWOC headquarters in Delano. Many other Catholic clergy work unofficially with the movement as pastors to the workers. According to Duran they are a major influence in keeping the union activities non-violent, a stand often emphasized by Chavez.

Prior to his arrest, Chavez spoke in New York’s Riverside Church to a congregation of 2,000 in an appeal for church support for the boycott. In discussing his commitment to non-violent methods, he said he agreed with critics that non-violence alone would not work.

Dr. Ernest F. Campbell, the church’s preaching minister, introduced Chavez as one who “effectively indicates what can happen when love for God and man is combined with political savvy and organizational skill.”

Two weeks later, Floyd Hawkins, president of the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, was given time to rebut Chavez’s arguments; he spoke to about 100 persons at a meeting following the regular service.

The UFWOC iceberg-lettuce boycott stems from what the Los Angeles Times called the “largest farm walkout in U. S. history” last summer when thousands of farm workers in the hundred-mile-long Salinas Valley went on strike. They left the field in solidarity with Chavez, and also to protest collective-bargaining contracts most of the area’s approximately eighty growers had signed with the rival Teamsters union.

Calling these “sweetheart contracts,” UFWOC opposed a court ruling that they were legitimate agreements and that the dispute was a jurisdictional one. Under California law, a boycott over such a dispute is illegal.

Most of the lettuce growers moved quickly to sign with the Teamsters after Chavez’s spectacular victory earlier last year when 90 per cent of California’s table-grape growers signed with the UFWOC. The National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ ad hoc Committee on Farm Labor played a significant part in that struggle, having been asked by the Teamsters to help mediate differences with the UFWOC.

A ‘Kernel’ For Christ

The senior class of Oxford Area High School (near Philadelphia) voted 128 to 40 to dedicate its 1971 yearbook, the Kernel, to Jesus Christ. With much applause, the students picked Christ over dedications to themselves, a teacher, the year, or the administration.

Article continues below

The suggestion was made by Jim Peters at a nominating assembly. “All of a sudden,” he said, “the Spirit just made me jump up, and I started talking.… The Spirit told me what to say.”

The administration, fearful of causing offense to non-Christians, referred the matter to the school board and the local ministerial association. If the majority wanted to dedicate the yearbook to Christ that was fine, they decided.

Peters is a two-time high-school dropout and former drug-user. “I was doing LSD every weekend, but I was reborn last April,” he relates. The rebirth came during a mystical experience he had while walking alone in the woods. Now he says the school, as a result of the yearbook dedication, is open to the message of Christ.


Antle’s case is unique; he has had a contract with the Teamsters since 1961, when he fully unionized his operations both in Salinas and in Arizona. His pioneering efforts to unionize farm labor brought opposition from almost all the other area growers. Something of a maverick among farmers, Antle in 1965 supported the efforts of Willard Wirtz, then Secretary of Labor, to have Congress end the bracero program (importation of Mexican farm laborers).

Chavez has said he believes the boycott will more and more replace the strike as labor’s most potent weapon. He claims that the charge of a jurisdictional dispute between his union and the Teamsters’ is a false one. His appeal in Riverside Church won him, among other things, a statement of support from more than twenty highly placed religious leaders in Massachusetts.

And last month the Ford Foundation announced a $225,000 grant to Chavez’s National Farmworkers Service Centers, operated in California, Arizona, and Texas. The money will be used to expand the centers’ legal services to secure enforcement of state health and safety codes applying to farm workers.

Several questions now demand answers. One is not whether there will be a union for farm workers in the land known as “the salad bowl of the nation” but which union shall it be? Another: Just how far does Cesar Chavez intend to take his unionizing crusade? Is the iceberg-lettuce boycott just the tip?

Bob Jones: No To Irs?

“It looks as if Bob Jones University will lose its tax-exempt status shortly,” warned the Greenville, South Carolina, college president darkly in a letter to alumni and friends of the independent Christian institution last month. And Bob Jones added that gifts to the university should be made by December 30, since gifts made before 1971 would definitely be tax deductible.

Article continues below

Jones’s fears are based on a questionnaire the Internal Revenue Service sent to the nation’s 17,000 tax-exempt private schools “to give assurance that they have adopted racially nondiscriminatory admissions policies and … have made this fact known to the public.” Bob Jones does not admit Negroes; a few Oriental students are accepted with the express understanding they will not date outside their own race.

The IRS announced last July 10 it could “no longer legally justify issuing favorable rulings of tax exemption to private schools” that practice discrimination, nor could it consider gifts to such schools as charitable deductions for income-tax purposes.

Jones warned in his letter that if the university loses its tax-exempt status, the Executive Committee will sue—at an estimated cost of $250,000 to the school.

The letter noted that “there is no question of cutting off the tax exemption of institutions that are training militant blacks, revolutionaries, Communists, and arsonists.… If the income tax deduction can be used to blackmail educational institutions, the next step is to use it to blackmail churches.”

Jones said the school would “stall” in filing its statement with the IRS so that gifts to the university would be tax deductible as long as possible.

Jones enclosed an explanatory statement that said the fifty trustees of Bob Jones University unanimously believe that Negroes should not be enrolled.

It continues: “The fact that we do not accept blacks as students here does not mean that we are against the Negro race, that we do not love the Negro, or that we are not concerned about his spiritual welfare. I wish there were an institution like Bob Jones University established exclusively for Negroes; however, with the present emphasis in this country, Negroes would not accept a school established solely for blacks because the whole emphasis today is on a breaking down of the racial barriers which God has set up; and where God sets up barriers, He does it for human good.”

Jones concludes that intermarriage is unscriptural. It is impossible for the university to accept Negro students without violating “Christian and Scriptural principles,” he added, and making the school susceptible to being “harassed, annoyed, and threatened.”

Article continues below
The Halves And The Have-Nots

Severe reduction in giving to national religious bodies last year will continue to take its toll in staff layoffs and program rollbacks in 1971.

Shock waves rolled through the Episcopal Church national headquarters last month as the denomination’s Executive Council voted to halve its national staff between now and June 30. And the controversial Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO) announced it has $160,133 for administration this year but no money to give new grants to community minority-empowerment groups—the business IFCO was set up for three years ago.

The Episcopal layoffs kept employees at 815 Second Avenue, New York, playing musical desks, as names of those affected by the reduction were not immediately announced. The present roster of 204 personnel will be cut to 103, beginning this month. (A high of 347 were employed in 1964.) The Executive Council’s crew-trimming decision was made after it learned that an informal estimate of expected church income for 1971 was $10.8 million—$2 million less than the stripped-down budget adopted only two months before at the denomination’s triennial convention in Houston.

Some $337,500 of a $750,000 gift from the diocese of Rochester, New York, will be used to retrain laid-off employees from “815”; a like amount of the gift will go toward establishing a fund-raising office, and the balance will be used for emergency overseas relief.

The staff amputation will in effect eliminate all existing departments in the national Episcopal headquarters; the reduction is considered the most drastic ever among denominations afflicted with dwindling income. A realigned national staff is anticipated with administration, jurisdiction, and program components.

Executive Council member Dr. Clifford Morehouse, a former president of the Episcopal House of Deputies, told the council there was a “crisis of confidence in the church” and “a credibility gap between the church and the council,” but his resolution asking for a study of the crisis was voted down.

Finances, meanwhile, look bleak indeed at IFCO’s New York office. Seven member organizations have pledged $135,000 for this year’s administration, but only the Lutheran Church in America and the United Church of Christ, pledging $20,000 each, have made program commitments. Hoped-for grants of $100,000 each from the United Methodists and United Presbyterians evaporated completely. The American Baptist Convention has designated $10,000 for administration, the Episcopal Church, $20,000. In past years these bodies were the largest contributors to IFCO programming.

Article continues below

The foundation—which spawned the James Forman Black Manifesto—has made about 100 grants totaling more than $3 million, mainly to black groups. IFCO has now suspended any new grants for at least three months. “The very denominations which created IFCO have grown cool in their support,” complains IFCO director Lucius Walker, Jr.

In related developments, the United Presbyterian Church recently eliminated about 150 staff positions and the National Council of Churches cut its headquarters staff by about 15 per cent.

Broad Consensus

Nineteen theologians representing eleven religious communions within the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant faiths, issued a statement last month indicating they no longer see as ecumenical obstacles traditionally divisive issues such as transubstantiation. The fifteen-point document was hailed as “the broadest consensus yet” by Christian theologians on the meaning of Holy Communion. The “power of the Spirit through the Word makes Christ really present” in the Eucharist, the statement says.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.