WATSONVILLE—On June 6, 1975, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a law giving farmworkers groundbreaking rights and protections. The law allowed workers to petition for secret-ballot elections as well as vote to join a union.
Men and women took to the fields of the Salinas Valley in the lead-up to the new election, campaigning and spreading awareness. Among them was a young Cesar Chavez—who led a 58-day march, or “Caminata,” through the fields of California.
Mimi Plumb, a photography student from the San Francisco Bay Area, spent months with the farmworkers, shooting dozens of rolls of film photographs. For four decades the images remained boxed away as negatives. That is until Plumb, who had gone on to have a successful career as an artist and educator, rediscovered them.
The Watsonville Public Library is currently displaying 18 of these historic photographs.
“It’s incredible to have these here,” said Principal Librarian Alicia Martinez. “It brings awareness… to how big of an impact this time had on history.”
The exhibition, “Pictures from the Field: The Caminata in the Summer of 1975,” is an offshoot of “Democracy in the Fields,” which debuted at the National Steinbeck Center in 2016. On Tuesday organizers were putting the finishing touches on the show.
Librarian Susan Renison said the show had garnered plenty of attention—even before it was finished being assembled.
“Just while I was hanging it, people told stories about how they had marched with Cesar… how the photographs made them cry,” she said. “It was amazing.”
Cesar Chavez is shown with others at Camp Roberts, an old Army base at the southern end of the Salinas Valley on July 26, 1975. — Photo by Mimi Plumb
Watsonville City Councilman Lowell Hurst found time to view the exhibit after a meeting at the library on Tuesday.
“Anytime we can revisit history, reflect on it, and build on it, it helps us move forward,” Hurst said. “Isn’t it interesting how we see things repeat themselves.”
“Pictures from the Field” will be shown at the Watsonville Public Library’s main branch, 275 Main St., until the end of October. A reception for the show will coincide with a film screening of “Adios Amor: The Search for Maria Moreno” on Oct. 19.
Martinez said she hopes the photographs will inspire others to keep working for change.
“It’s important to remember… the prominent role these people played in our history,” Martinez said. “We should never, ever forget what they worked so hard for.”