Had he been killed in midlife, as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were, Cesar Chavez would be one of those 1960s figures whose name brings instant recognition and a lump in the throat. We would speak of him today as the Chicano labor leader who was about to transform the lives of the
nation’s farm workers when an assassin’s bullet intervened.
There was, however, no such dramatic arc to Cesar Chavez’s life. His death this past April at age sixty-six was front-page news. An estimated thirty five thousand people traveled to Delano, California, for his funeral, and by order of the governor state flags were lowered to half-mast. But for anyone who didn’t come of age in the 1960s or wasn’t involved with the United Farm Workers, Cesar’s passing drew few tears. Like Bob Dylan or Eugene McCarthy or Eldridge Cleaver, he had turned into an embodiment of the past. He seemed to illustrate nothing so much as how remote recent history can become....
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