Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King
Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for equality. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

By Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America.

If there is one lesson we learned from Dr. King, it is that our struggle for civil rights is indivisible.

In September, 1966, Dr. King sent a telegram to Cesar Chavez, who was in the midst of his decades-long nonviolent battle to free farm workers, Latinos and other poor working people from the bonds of abuse and poverty.

Martin Luther King march
Arturo S. Rodriguez, President, United Farm Workers of America talks about the relationship between Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Telegram to Cesar Chavez from Martin Luther King, Jr.

“As brothers in the fight for equality,” Dr. King wrote, “I extend the hand of fellowship and good will and wish continuing success to you and your members…You and your valiant fellow workers have demonstrated your commitment to righting grievous wrongs forced upon exploited people. We are together with you in spirit and in determination that our dreams for a better tomorrow will be realized.”

Cesar Chavez became friends over the years with Coretta Scott King, Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson and other major figures during the 1960s of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights.

They worked closely together and supported each others’ causes. Recently, the SCLC CEO Dr. Charles Steele Jr. conferred with the leaders of the farm worker movement, including myself and Paul F. Chavez, Cesar’s son and president of the Cesar Chavez Foundation.

Out of that session came SCLC’s commitment to one of the paramount civil rights causes in our own day and time: The continuing campaign for immigration reform. Eleven million American workers and their loved ones endure grievous exploitation and suffering because of their immigration status, which subjects them to grinding poverty and forces families to be torn apart.

By embracing these principles of immigration reform—especially the path to citizenship—SCLC helps unite the King and Chavez movements into a powerful modern-day force to achieve social and economic justice for all Americans.

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