EDINBURG, RGV – Edinburg City Commission has passed a Proclamation recognizing the famous Starr County farm worker strike of 1966.
The Proclamation notes that the farm workers went on a march in the summer of 1966 from Starr County to the state Capitol in Austin in order to protest harsh working conditions and demand that growers raise wages from 40 cents an hour to $1.25 an hour.
On the way, the Proclamation notes, the strikers passed through Edinburg and were greeted by then-Edinburg Mayor Al Ramirez. It says the strikers also stopped at the San Juan Basilica and received the support of the then-Bishop of Brownsville, Humberto Medeiros.
The Proclamation also notes that while marching north of New Braunfels, the strikers came across then-Texas Governor John Connally, then-Texas Attorney General Waggoner Carr and then-Speaker of the House Ben Barnes. They were headed in the opposite direction for a dove hunting trip in South Texas. The Proclamation says the three elected officials told the workers that they were wasting their time going to Austin because they would not consider legislation to increase the minimum wage for agricultural workers.
Undeterred, the Proclamation states, the marchers picked up the support of 10,000 people along the way.
“The Rio Grande Valley melon strike was the beginning of the Chicano movement in Texas,” the Proclamation states. It mentions that “Los rinches, (the Texas Rangers) and county sheriff’s deputies brutally beat and jailed” the striking agricultural workers in order to “break the strike.”
The Proclamation also notes that as a result of the walkout, a Texas Minimum Wage law finally passed the Legislature in 1970. It states that in a 1974 ruling (Allee v. Medrano), the U.S. Supreme Court “found the Texas Rangers, Starr County Sheriff’s Department and a Starr County justice of the peace conspired to deprive the farm workers of their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly by unlawfully arresting and physically assaulting them.”
The Proclamation also states that in the ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court “permanently enjoined the Texas Rangers and its officers from intimidating workers in their organizing efforts.”
The Proclamation ends by noting that, coming out of the strike, Bishop Medeiros donated ten acres of land in San Juan to the Alliance for Labor Action. In 1970, the property was transferred to Cesar Chavez’s National Farm Workers Service Center, which is now the Cesar Chavez Foundation. The building built by farm workers continues to serve farm workers and other low-income residents to this day, the Proclamation states. Among the non-profit groups housed on the ten acres are La Unión del Pueblo Entero, a community group set up by César Chávez.
The Proclamation has been posted in full at the end of this story.
A commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the 1966 Starr County Melon Strike and March will take place on Friday, September 9 in Edinburg. Guests include President of the UFW Arturo S. Rodriguez, the huelguistas (strikers) from Rio Grande City and many more who walked on the historic march. Proceedings start at 9 a.m.
The commemoration is being co-hosted by United Farm Workers, La Unión del Pueblo Entero, the César E. Chávez Foundation, the County of Hidalgo, the City of Edinburg, and UT Rio Grande Valley’s Mexican American Studies Program.
Here is the itinerary for the commemoration:
Friday, September 9, 2016
9:00 AM – Assembly at UTRGV ITT Courtyard, 1201 W University Drive, Edinburg, TX 78539
9:30 AM – March to Edinburg City Hall Courtyard, 415 W University Drive, Edinburg, TX 78539
10:00 AM – Program in City Auditorium, 415 W University Drive, Edinburg, TX 78539
Here is the Proclamation passed by Edinburg City Council on August 23, 2016.
MELON STRIKE MARCH 50th ANNIVERSARY
WHEREAS, In the summer of 1966, hundreds of men, women, and children harvesting cantaloupes in Rio Grande City and Starr County organized with the United Farm Workers and demanded growers raise wages from 40 cents to $1.25 an hour. When their demands were ignored, farm workers walked out on strike and picketed the fields. On the first day of the strike, the Texas Rangers arrested the leader of the Farm Workers; and,
WHEREAS, The workers did not give up. On July 4, 1966, a core group of 30 strikers began a peaceful 400-mile march through South Texas communities to the state Capitol in Austin, gathering support for their cause along the way. On July 7, Mayor Al Ramirez greeted the marchers passing through the City of Edinburg on their way to a mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of San Juan served by the new Bishop Humberto Medeiros who endorsed their cause to raise wages to $1.25 an hour. They continued through Weslaco, Edcouch, Elsa and continued on their march which took them throughout South Texas towns; and,
WHEREAS, One hot August day, as marchers rested on the side of the road north of New Braunfels, Governor John Connally, Attorney General Waggoner Carr and Speaker of the House Ben Barnes stopped on their dove hunting trip to South Texas to tell them, “No need to continue because we won’t be at the Capitol when you arrive and we will not consider a minimum wage bill in a special session.” That did not deter the marchers. On Labor Day 1966, the strikers, with 10,000 supporters, marched the last four miles from St. Edwards University to the state Capitol; and,
WHEREAS, The strike continued into 1967. Los rinches (the Texas Rangers) and county sheriff’s deputies brutally beat and jailed them in order to break the strike; and,
WHEREAS, As a result of the walkouts, a Texas Minimum Wage law finally passed the Legislature in 1970. In a 1974 ruling (Allee v. Medrano), the U.S. Supreme Court found the Texas Rangers, Starr County Sheriff’s Department and a Starr County justice of the peace conspired to deprive the farm workers of their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly by unlawfully arresting and physically assaulting them. The U.S. Supreme Court in the ruling permanently enjoined the Texas Rangers and its officers from intimidating workers in their organizing efforts; and,
WHEREAS, The Rio Grande Valley melon strike was the beginning of the Chicano movement in Texas; and,
WHEREAS, The United Farm Workers members and supporters erected a building brick-by-brick in San Juan and opened its doors to the community in 1972. The original United Farm Workers union hall in Rio Grande City was in a theater at North Flores and Ringgold streets. Catholic Bishop Humberto Medeiros donated this 10-acre site to the Alliance for Labor Action. On August 31, 1970, the property was transferred to Cesar Chavez’s National Farm Workers Service Center, now the Cesar Chavez Foundation; and,
WHEREAS, The building in San Juan and the farm worker movement continue serving farm workers and other low-income residents to this day in Hidalgo County; and,
NOW, THEREFORE, I, RICHARD H. GARCIA, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF EDINBURG, TEXAS: By the power vested in me by law, do hereby recognize the 50th Anniversary of the MELON STRIKE MARCH IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the City of Edinburg, Texas a Municipal Corporation, to be affixed on this the 16th day of August, 2016. ATTEST:
Myra L. Ayala Garza, City Secretary
CITY OF EDINBURG, TEXAS
Richard H. Garcia, Mayor
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows leaders of La Unión del Pueblo Entero receiving the Resolution from City of Edinburg council members. The LUPE leaders are, from left to right, Martha Sanchez, Juanita Valdez-Cox, Tania Chavez, and John-Michael Torres. The city council members pictured are, from left to right, David Torres, Richard Molina, Mayor Richard Garcia, J.R. Betancourt, and Homer Jasso, Jr.