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Today in History - August 22

Let’s Go To The Fair!

August 22 falls in the midst of the state and county fair season. State and county fairs are an American pastime in the late summer and early fall—a remnant of a cross-cultural tradition rooted in ancient times.

Our state fair is a great state fair, Don’t miss it, don’t even be late.

“Our State Fair,” Music by Richard Rodgers, words by Oscar Hammerstein II. Performing Arts Division

Winner at the Delta County Fair, Colorado. Russell Lee, photographer, October 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
The earliest fairs, such as the great Aztec fair that Spanish conquistadors found on the present-day site of Mexico City, were created to solve problems of distribution. Located along major trade or pilgrimage routes, fairs and festivals provided opportunities for people to demonstrate their skills and crafts, exchange ideas, and barter for goods. Today, fairs provide opportunities for travel, entertainment, commerce, and socializing, and also play an important role in the social and economic lives of rural Americans. For urban folk, they provide a means of learning about and appreciating rural and agricultural lifestyles. Livestock and agriculture competitions sponsored by manufacturers and agricultural societies, such as the 4-H Club are fixtures of state and county fairs as are various other contests. Traditional homecrafts such as quilting, lacemaking, rugmaking, baking, and canning, are showcased and awarded ribbons for “best of show.”
[Display of Home-Canned Food]. [between 1941 and 1945]. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
Cutting the Pies and Cakes at the Barbeque Dinner, Pie Town, New Mexico Fair. Russell Lee, photographer, October 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
Mrs. Bill Stagg With State Quilt, Pie Town, New Mexico. Russell Lee, photographer, October 1940. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Color Photographs. Prints & Photographs Division
Interviews from American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940 in the Manuscript Division, includes many accounts of fair visits:

The State Fair…was the biggest social event of the year. Everybody who was anybody as well as those who were not would come from all the country round about…to exhibit…stock and products.

[Pioneer Reminiscences]. Laura Minto Irwin, interviewee; Sara B Wrenn, interviewer; Portland, Oregon,January 13, 1939. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940. Manuscript Division

…we regarded a visit to Columbia and the State Fair then just about like you or I would look upon a visit to London or Berlin now.

[Judge J. H. Yarborough]. James Henry Yarborough, interviewee; W. W. Dixon, interviewer; Winnsboro, South Carolina, June 28, 1938. American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936-1940. Manuscript Division

Outside exhibition halls, fairgoers sample entertainment ranging from country music to races and pie-eating contests, follow midway barkers’ calls to take in sideshows, try for prizes in game booths, and indulge in cotton candy or a ride on the ferris wheel.
Girls at 4-H Club Fair, Cimarron, Kansas. Russell Lee, photographer, August 1939.Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Poster in Agricultural Exhibit. South Louisiana State Fair, Donaldsonville, Louisiana. Russell Lee, photographer, October 1938. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Boys in the Judging Stand Watching the Pie Eating Contest, 4-H Club Fair, Cimarron, Kansas. Russell Lee, photographer, August, 1939. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
The Fair’s the Day to Talk, Albany, Vermont. Carl Mydans, photographer, September, 1936. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Horse Judging at the Fair, Albany, Vermont. Carl Mydans, photographer, September, 1936. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division

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Mexican Americans and United Farm Workers of America

On August 22, 1966, the United Farm Workers Organizing Committee (UFWOC), later renamed the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), was formed. The UFWOC was established when two smaller organizations, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) and the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC), both in the middle of strikes against certain California grape growers, merged and moved under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO. Under the founding leadership of Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta, the UFW won many labor or civil rights concessions for disenfranchised Mexican-American farmworkers, an important aspect of the Chicano movement. The Chicano movement has been an often-ignored part of the civil rights struggles in the 1960s; it was, nonetheless, a landmark period for the second-largest ethnic minority in the U.S.

¡SÍ SE PUEDE!
(Yes We Can!)

Slogan used by Cesar Chavez, First president of the United Farm Workers

Boycott Lettuce and Grapes. Chicago: [Women's Graphics Collective, 1978]. Posters: Artists Posters. Prints & Photographs Division

Before the rise of the UFW, working conditions were harsh for most agricultural workers. On average, farmworkers made about ninety cents per hour plus ten cents for each basket of produce they picked. Many workers in the field were not provided even the most basic necessities such as clean drinking water or portable toilets. Unfair hiring practices, such as favoritism and kickbacks, were rampant. Seldom were their living quarters equipped with indoor plumbing or cooking facilities.

Migratory Mexican Field Worker’s Home on the Edge of a Frozen Pea Field, Imperial Valley, California. Dorothea Lange, photographer, March 1937. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives . Prints & Photographs Division

Through a series of demonstrations, strikes, and protests, the UFW brought these issues to the public’s attention. In 1965, one of the first major actions taken by the UFW was to call for a boycott of table grapes, which became a nationwide boycott by 1968. Several other boycotts against lettuce and strawberry growers were organized in following years. On February 14, 1968, UFW President Cesar Chavez began the first of many fasts in protest of the treatment of farmworkers. During this first fast he received a strong letter of support from Martin Luther King Jr. On March 10, he broke the fast with Robert Kennedy at his side.

In 1973, the UFW organized a march through the Coachella and Imperial valleys in Central California to the United States-Mexico border to protest growers’ use of illegal immigrants as strikebreakers. The thousands of marchers were joined by the Reverend Ralph Abernathy and U.S. Senator Walter Mondale. In 1970, Chavez was jailed for defying a court injunction against boycotting. While imprisoned, he was visited by Coretta Scott King and Ethel Kennedy.

Through these dramatic moves the UFW won many important benefits for agricultural workers. It brought comprehensive health benefits for farmworkers and their families, rest periods, clean drinking water, sanitary facilities, and even profit sharing and parental leave. The UFW also has pioneered the fight to protect farmworkers against harmful pesticides.

Migrant Mexican Children in Contractor’s Camp at Time of Early Pea Harvest, Nipomo, California. Dorothea Lange, photographer, January 1935. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Mexican Girl, Carrot Worker, Edinburg, Texas. Russell Lee, photographer, February 1939. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives . Prints & Photographs Division
Filipino Crew of Fifty-five Boys Cutting and Loading Lettuce, Imperial Valley, California. Dorothea Lange, photographer, February 1937. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives. Prints & Photographs Division
Learn more about farmworkers and labor unions in the Library’s Digital Collections.
Viva Chavez, Viva la Causa, Viva la Huelga. Paul Davis, artist; New York, Darien House, 1968. Posters: Artists Posters. Prints & Photographs Division. This poster was used to promote a 1968 benefit performance, at Carnegie Hall, for the California Grape Workers and the National Farm Workers Service Center.

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