Fred Ross Sr. is the legendary community organizer who mobilized and trained workers across California and other states. He taught renowned labor leaders like César Chávez and Dolores Huerta how to inspire people to fight injustice through house meetings and door-to-door recruitment. Ross Sr. passed away in 1992, but his son and hundreds of lawmakers and community organizers have united to call on President Barack Obama to award him a posthumous Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the country. Here are some of the reasons.
Fred Ross Sr. and Woody Guthrie, 1939
Ross Sr. began community organizing in the California labor camps depicted by John Steinbeck in "The Grapes of Wrath." Folk singer Woody Guthrie took his guitar to the cotton fields and sang to the migrant workers.
Fred Ross Sr. with Edward Roybal (center) and Sal Rivas, 1951
Ross Sr. worked with Roybal to form the Community Service Organization in East Los Angeles. The CSO helped elect Roybal to the City Council of Los Angeles. In 1962, Roybal would go on to become the first Latino elected to Congress from California in nearly 100 years.
San Jose Community Service Organization, 1954
The CSO, which started in southern California, became a national organization in the 1950s. Fred Ross Sr. is in the center flanked by Ed Roybal and Herman Gallegos. Also pictured are Saul Alinksy (far left), César Chávez (second from right) and Helen Chávez (third from right, top row).
Fred Ross Sr. and César Chávez, 1966
Ross Sr. met Chavez in 1952 in San Jose, California. The two worked together first through the CSO in San Jose and then to help laborers through the United Farm Workers movement. Chávez was initially suspicious of Ross when he showed up on his doorstep looking for someone to host a CSO meeting, but the two became lifelong friends and Ross Sr. was an influential mentor for Chávez.
Fred Ross Sr. at mass during César Chávez's fast, April 1968
Chávez went on a water only, 25 day fast in 1968. The fast was designed to bring attention to the plight of farm workers without resorting to violence. He used the technique several times throughout his decades of work with laborers.
Fred Ross Sr. and Dolores Huerta, 1974
Huerta met Ross Sr. in the mid-1950s in Stockton, California, and was drawn to the house meeting style of organizing he pioneered. One of the most public faces of the fight for farmworkers' rights, she wrote in a letter calling on Fred Ross Sr. to be awarded the Medal of Freedom that "We are all Fred Ross' alumni."
Fred Ross Sr., 1975
Ross Sr. poses with César Chávez (left), Luis Valdez and Dolores Huerta during a meeting in the late 1980s. The community organizer rarely slowed down and was devoted to helping younger generations, including his son Fred Ross Jr., fight new injustices.
Fred Ross Sr. and Fred Ross Jr., 1990
Ross Sr. poses with Jim Herman, president emeritus of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, and Fred Ross Jr. on his 80th birthday in 1990, two years before his death. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said at the time, "Fred Ross Sr. left a legacy of good works that have given many the courage of their convictions, the powers of their ideals, and the strength to do heroic deeds on behalf of the common person."