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Civil Rights and Union Organizer Fred Ross Sr. Selected for California Hall of Fame

Fred Ross Sr.

This post originally appeared on the California Labor Federation's Labor's Edge blog

Legendary community and labor organizer Fred Ross Sr. will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame, Gov. Jerry Brown and First Lady Anne Gust Brown announced.

Ross, father of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1245 organizer Fred Ross Jr., organized “Dust Bowl” refugees in California’s migratory worker camps in the 1930s and trained many of the activists who went on to organize the United Farm Workers (UFW), including César Chávez, Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Padilla.

Other California luminaries being inducted into the California Hall of Fame with Ross include basketball superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, literary icon Joan Didion and Francis Ford Coppola, who directed the acclaimed "Godfather" movies. Also being inducted are civil rights hero Charlotta Bass, environmental scientist Stephen Schneider and social-activism innovator Mimi Silbert.

Said Gov. Brown:

These talented pioneers represent the very best of California. Their determination, intelligence and creativity continue to inspire us.

Following his work helping Dust Bowl refugees achieve self-governance in the 1930s and early 1940s, Ross worked in Cleveland during World War II to combat prejudice against Japanese Americans and help them find jobs and housing upon their release from the internment camps.

After the war, in the face of Ku Klux Klan activity, Ross organized eight Civic Unity Leagues in California’s Citrus Belt, bringing Mexican Americans and African Americans together to battle segregation in schools, skating rinks and movie theaters.

In Orange County, Calif., he organized parents to fight rampant segregation in the local schools. The most dramatic outcome of his work in Orange County occurred when parents sued the school districts and prevailed. That case, Mendez et al. v. Westminster School District, laid the foundation for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

In the 1950s, Ross met Chávez, Huerta and Padilla and recruited them to the Community Service Organization (CSO). Together with other CSO leaders across California and Arizona, they successfully overcame voter suppression efforts and passed landmark legislation on behalf of immigrants, notwithstanding the pervasive climate of fear characteristic of the McCarthy era.

In 1966, Chávez recruited Ross to become the full-time organizing director for the UFW. He trained more than 2,000 organizers over the next decade in support of UFW strikes and boycotts across the United States and Canada, a movement that seeded a new generation of organizers, including Fred Ross Jr. and Local 1245 business manager Tom Dalzell. The UFW helped tens of thousands of farm workers gain better wages, health care and safer working conditions.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, in a letter to President Barack Obama earlier this year, supported a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Ross:

Ross fought racism, discrimination and all the injustices confronting working men and women for five decades. He helped build the labor movement and the bridges between labor, religious, civic and neighborhood organizations. He was a pioneer in opening doors to women and people of color, encouraging their full participation in leadership roles.

The California Labor Federation is thrilled that the governor has bestowed the honor to such a strong and dedicated champion of worker issues. Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation, said:

Fred Ross Sr. dedicated his life to providing voice to the voiceless. This recognition rightly etches Fred's name among California's greats. It will serve as a powerful reminder to future generations that movements don't just happen, they are inspired by women and men like Fred who fight every day with valor and vigor for a more just society.

Members of the public are invited to view the arrivals of the inductees and ceremony attendees on Wednesday, Oct. 1, from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., in a public-viewing area located in front of The California Museum on the corner of 10th and O streets in Sacramento.

Immediately following the viewing of arrivals, a live webcast of the induction ceremony will be streamed on the museum’s website at 7 p.m.

This piece was modified from an original IBEW Local 1245 blog post.
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