Chris Hartmire

Chris Hartmire

Reverend Chris Hartmire and UFW organizer Marcos Muñoz attend the memorial march for Chávez to Forty Acres, Delano, April 29, 1993. Photo by John Kouns.

Wayne Clyde “Chris” Hartmire was born on June 5, 1932, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied engineering at Princeton University, spent three years in the Navy, and studied at the Union Theological Seminary in New York. While in the seminary, he worked at the East Harlem Protestant Parish as a minister to youth. And after the seminary, he worked in East Harlem at the Church of the Resurrection.

Chris Hartmire testifies before the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor inside of Delano High School’s auditorium, Delano, March 16, 1966. Photo by John Kouns.

In the summer of 1959, while still at the seminary, he did summer fieldwork in the California Migrant Ministry in Santa Clara County where he met Doug Still. On September 1961, Still left as director of the California Migrant Ministry and persuaded Hartmire to take that position. Hartmire and his family moved to Culver City that year. Doug Still recommended Hartmire to meet Fred Ross and César Chávez, one founder and the other director of the Community Service Organization (CSO) in East Los Angeles. That encounter transformed Hartmire’s life.

In November of 1961, he went to be trained at the CSO chapter in Stockton with Gilbert Padilla and Dolores Huerta.nAt Ross’s and Chavez’s invitation, Hartmire attended the CSO convention in Calexico in mid-March of 1962, when Chávez proposed the task of organizing farmworkers. After the proposal was rejected, Chávez quit the organization, moved to Delano with his family, and began to organize the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA).

Chris Hartmire speaks to a crowd at the end of the pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento.Chris Hartmire habla a una multitud al final de la peregrinación de Delano a Sacramento.

Chris Hartmire speaking in front of the State Capitol, Sacramento, 1966

Chris Hartmire speaks to a crowd at the end of the pilgrimage from Delano to Sacramento on April 10, 1966. Gilbert Padilla, César Chávez, and Larry Itliong can be seen in the background. At the rally in front of the State Capitol, the 57 farm workers who had walked the entire way from Delano, were sitting on the stage. The NFWA speakers were Epifanio Camacho, Dolores Huerta, Augustín Lira, and César Chávez, with Gilbert Padilla introducing them. A strong coalition was on display, with Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders pledging their support to the NFWA and with officials belonging to competing unions, Bill Kircher and Louis Goldblatt (ILWU), Jack Goldberger (Teamsters), and Paul Schrade (UAW), addressed the crowd. The speeches were interrupted by the supporters in the audience chanting the NFWA anthem song, De Colores.

Hartmire became an important source of counsel and financial support for Chávez’s efforts. Hartmire invited Helen and César to the Migrant Ministry retreats, donated a mimeograph machine, and assigned his newest staff member, the Reverend Jim Drake, to work with Chávez. Drake’s little red Renault and credit card helped support Chavez’s early organizing efforts for farm workers.

Chris Hartmire walks on the floor of the UFW’s First Constitutional Convention, Selland Arena, Fresno, September 1973. Photo by John Kouns.

When the first convention to form the Farm Workers Association took place in late September of 1962, Hartmire delivered the welcoming remarks. Chris Hartmire and his California Migrant Ministry (later renamed the National Farm Workers Ministry) were key allies and supporters of César Chávez and the farmworkers in the early stages of Chávez’s organizing efforts. Later, during the 1966 hearings of the Senate Subcommittee on Migratory Labor in Delano, Hartmire testified in support of the workers: “As Christians,” he said, “we cannot assume a position of non-involvement or neutrality in the presence of social injustice which reduces the dignity and well-being of any of God’s children.”
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