I was 19 years old and a sophomore in college in New Jersey in 1972. This young, Black man appeared on our campus telling us the story of Cesar Chavez and the farmworkers in Califronia. He was living with a local family and getting paid $5.00 per week. Well, California was a long way from New Jersey and this urban city kid had never, ever met a farmworker, must less given a second thought about where our vegetables came from. But, right there in the cafeteria of our Catholic University, were cases of the offending iceberg lettuce. The more I heard, the more I was horrified. A group of us decided to have a meeting with the President of the University (a Catholic priest) to request that the iceberg lettuce be removed from the cafeteria. I figured one meeting and it would all be over. It wasn’t. The President was unmoved. I was livid and got thrown out of his office (one of my proudest moments!). From there, we had rallies, gave out flyers, went to dozens of grocery stores, talked to people and handed out literature. Eventually, the President agreed to allow the University to carry other lettuce, in addition to iceberg lettuce, thereby giving people the choice of what lettuce to purchase. We were able to write a brief story about the boycott and include it in the lettuce case. It was not the victory we wanted, but it WAS our victory. Over time, more and more of that iceberg lettuce sat wilting in it’s case.
I always had a place in my heart for the farm workers and for the good man that was Cesar Chavez. I often thought about that young, Afro-American man and wondered what happened to him. I still have three buttons from that time period including one that says “Nixon Eats Lettuce”. I also have the original black and gold eagle necklace that I purchased in 1972.
These are the treasures that are part of my life story. This is the movement that changed my life.