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 IBEW 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, including Cesar Chavez, 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 heroine Charlotta Bass, environmental scientist Stephen Schneider, and social-activism innovator Mimi Silbert.
“These talented pioneers represent the very best of California,” said Gov. Brown. “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 helped 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, California, 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 vs. Westminster School District, laid the foundation for the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education.
In the 1950s Ross met Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Gilbert 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 Cesar Chavez recruited Ross to become the full-time Organizing Director for the United Farm Workers Union (UFW). He trained more than two thousand organizers over the next decade in support of UFW strikes and boycotts across the U.S. and Canada, a movement that seeded a new generation of organizers, including Fred Ross Jr. and IBEW 1245 Business Manager Tom Dalzell. The UFW helped tens of thousands of farm workers gain better wages, health care and safer working conditions.
“Ross fought racism, discrimination, and all the injustices confronting working men and women for five decades,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in a letter to President Obama earlier this year supporting a Presidential Medal of Freedom for Ross. “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.”
Members of the public are invited to view the arrivals of the inductees and ceremony attendees on Wednesday, October 1, from 5:00 p.m. to 7:00 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 //www.CaliforniaMuseum.org at 7:00 p.m.