Fred Ross Was Orange County's Loss—But César Chávez's Gain

The legendary community organizer influenced a generation of Latino civil-rights activists. But in OC, he was run out of town

"We suggest," the letter continued, "that it would be in [your] best interest . . . to refrain from any association" with Ross.

Shortly after, those same Latino leaders were called to a meeting at the Orange County District Attorney's Office. There, OC DA James Davis and Los Angeles Archbishop John Joseph Cantwell told them in no uncertain terms to run Ross out of town. Decades later, Tarango told Ross Jr. what happened during that meeting: "Hector told me that he told the DA and the bishop, 'This is what we're doing. We're parents of kids and want to end segregation. We're registering our fellow citizens, we're helping people to become citizens. What is un-American about that?'"

Bishop Cantwell responded that OC's Latinos just "didn't understand," and that Ross was "a real subversive character." Only Tarango sided with Ross; the other leaders quietly told their mentor his help was no longer needed. Undeterred, Ross moved to Boyle Heights the next year and started Community Services Organization (CSO), the group that would help elect Edward Roybal to the Los Angeles City Council and eventually hire and train a young Chávez.

Ross with Chávez
Courtesy Fred Ross Jr.
Ross with Chávez

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"He invited Tarango for the CSO chapter dinner shortly after it started," Ross Jr. says with a laugh now. "And Dad told him, 'Hector, I learned from my failure in OC.' And the lesson he learned, from then on, before he started any drive, he'd introduce himself to the bishop and DA. And he never failed after that."

The momentum that Ross had started in OC came to a halt—after Mendez, et al., Orange County wouldn't see any noticeable civil rights victories for Latinos until the tenant strikes of the 1980s. Los Angeles, on the other hand, changed radically with Ross' influence—and the story of the UFW, of course, is well-known.

Ross Jr. is trying to get his father inducted into the California Hall of Fame and awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor. And though Orange County didn't want Fred Ross, it did serve as motivation for the rest of his life.

"One of Dad's favorite sayings was, 'The organizer is a social arsonist that goes around setting people on fire,'" Ross Jr. says. "'The organizer is the catalyst or the spark. The embers are there—you've just got to reach inside there and fight back against the injustices.'"

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If Chavez and Ross really wanted to help poor Latinos why didn't they do more to help them learn English and go to college..  That would have been the most sensible way out of poverty .. Oh that's right.. They were trying to turn them into good communists .. 

Marie Dixon
Marie Dixon

Better be making your life choices not based on pursuit of fame nor fortune. Un idea that needs a comeback.

sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

In 1969, Chavez and members of the UFW marched through the Imperial and Coachella Valleys to the border of Mexico to protest growers' use of undocumented immigrants

the UFW and Chavez went so far as to report undocumented immigrants who served as strikebreaking replacement workers (as well as those who refused to unionize) to the Immigration and Naturalization Service

What would the Dems call him now

especially if those FACTS as stated above were included by all who speak and/or write about him

Mick Slick
Mick Slick

Well, interesting to say the least; Having read Fred Ross's story, it seems to differ from my father had told me about life in the Central Valley back the 20's and 30's. He explained to us that while one may have gone to school with Latinos, one did NOT go to school with okies. And I have class photos from the 30's, taken in Salinas, to attest to this.


Thank you for keeping this history alive.  Fred Ross is never forgotten to those of us who study Labor history or Chicano history, or who are actively engaged in these movements.  He worked closely with Congressman Ed Roybal at the beginning of his career.  He played a critical role in forming the CSO and helping ordinary people learn how to engage in political action, so that politics isnt just for the rich and the powerful.  Today his legacy lives on in the thousands of people trained directly or indirectly by his style and influence.  The People of the OC's loss was L.A.s gain!

Anne Bagasao
Anne Bagasao

If anything of value has come from the Chavez bio-pic it's that it has brought to light a more in-depth history of the movement and lit a fire under the otherwise apathetic and unconscious asses of my community who suddenly all seem to know about the Delano Manongs.

JGlanton topcommenter

Thank god the OC chased off that vile Alinskyite. Their only goal is to destroy our country and our freedoms (revolution, yay) and replace it with a marxist dictatorship.  He also passed on Alinsky's example of abusing his workers to Chavez, working them to death for only $5/week for 16 hour days, 7 days a week. They had to beg for food to survive. When he wasn't rounding up illegal aliens and driving them back across the border.  Orange County was lucky to get rid of the cretin and the utterly corrupt power structure that inevitably follows places where "organizers" have had an impact.

sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter


I do agree that it is very important 

the essence of a democracy to have all people participate

can you explain to me why , as a group, latinos, stereotypically hard working folks,

continue to vote for the party that hurts the middle class hence the poor the most, the dems



So reptilian logic comes to the conclusion that it was Chavez that owned the land and raised the crops and set the price of wages paid to the workers he hired to harvest those crops?? And here I thought all these years he was working tirelessly to help organize the farm workers and fight to change the very conditions you just described. I've been such a fool not to close my mind to historical facts before now. It so liberating not to have to worry about actually knowing what the hell I'm talking about. Thank you! 

GustavoArellano moderator editortopcommenter

@JGlantonAs Tarango said: "This is what we're doing. We're parents of kids and want to end segregation. We're registering our fellow citizens, we're helping people to become citizens. What is un-American about that?"

Nice to see you support segregated communities, cretin. Just go slither back to the OC Register already, and leave the discussion to the adults. 

sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

@GustavoArellano @JGlanton  


but it doesnt change NOR DID you ( or could you?)  

refute what JGlanton posted

as far as wanting to "end segregation"

that is a lie

to "end segregation" means you are willing to denounce Sec 8 housing etc 

B/c to TRULY end segregation you have to ADMIT

that people should live in homes they can afford

not ones that subsidized which is a nicer way of saying forced

you ready to make that leap Gustavo??