Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King Jr. never met. They overlapped only briefly in the national spotlight, though their names are often linked together because of they each championed civil rights and shared a very public commitment to non-violent protest.
When John Lewis led marchers across the Edmund Pettus bridge on Bloody Sunday, fifty years ago today, Chavez was still working in near anonymity, signing up farmworkers to join the National Farm Workers Association in central California. His efforts had begun to attract some notice from SNCC organizers in the Bay Area, and he was just beginning to think about leading his first strike. It would be two more months before the fledgling union lead a brief strike of rose grafters, and four months more before the start of what became the famous Delano grape strike.
There is almost no documentation of any direct contact between the King and Chavez. When Chavez embarked on his first lengthy fast in early 1968, to protest the spread of violence among union supporters, King sent this telegram: “I am deeply moved by your courage in fasting as your personal sacrifice for justice through non-violence.” Top aides to Chavez viewed it as an overture to be invited to the fast, which drew many famous leaders. They deliberately did not invite King. Instead, Robert F. Kennedy, about to become a presidential candidate, was asked to help Chavez break the fast on March 10, 1968. Less than a month later, King was assassinated.