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Before the film, César Chavez, Chavez's life was depicted in photographs by his confidant, Jon Lewis.
In the winter of 1966, twenty-eight-year-old ex-marine Jon Lewis visited Delano, California, the center of the California grape strike. He thought he might stay awhile, then resume studying photography at San Francisco State University. He stayed for two years, becoming the United Farm Workers Union’s semiofficial photographer and a close confidant of farmworker leader César Chávez.
Surviving on a picket’s wage of five dollars a week, Lewis photographed twenty-four hours a day and created an insider’s view of the historic and sometimes violent confrontations, mass marches, fasts, picket lines, and boycotts that forced the table-grape industry to sign the first contracts with a farm workers union. Though some of his images were published contemporaneously, most remained unseen. Historian and photographer Richard Steven Street rescues Lewis from obscurity, allowing us for the first time to see a pivotal moment in civil rights history through the lens of a passionate photographer.
A masterpiece of social documentary, this work is at once the biography of a photographer, an exposé of poverty and injustice, and a celebration of the human spirit.
“With characteristic erudition, historian Richard Steven Street brings to life the incredible work of Jon Lewis, one of the foremost labor and civil rights photographers of the twentieth century. This book simultaneously captures agricultural California’s most pressing political struggles and the vision of a major, if unrecognized, artist.”—Stephen Pitti, professor of history at Yale University and author of The Devil in Silicon Valley: Northern California, Race, and Mexican Americans
“Jon Lewis’s magnificent photographs of the farmworker revolution in California evoke comparisons with the work of Dorothea Lange. They bend time past all forgetting to an era of struggle that stands on a par with Selma and Freedom Summer—the bitter fight to dignify Mexican and Filipino labor in the fields. Richard Street, who brought Lewis and his archive back into the light, provides a piercing account that honors both the brilliance of this photographer and the memory of a singular time and place.”—Richard A. Walker, professor of geography at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of The Conquest of Bread: 150 Years of California Agribusiness
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