In the spring of 1966, farm workers in the melon fields of Starr County walked out to protest wages of 40 cents an hour and inhumane working conditions in the fields, including lack of sanitary facilities. Over four hundred workers organized a local labor unit related to the United Farm Workers of America.
On July 4, 1966 they begin a March to Austin to demand a minimum wage of 1.25 an hour for farm laborers in the state of Texas. With the support of churches, religious leaders, labor leaders and students, they arrived in Austin on Labor Day, September 5, 1966 at the State Capitol. Nearly two years later, their efforts bore success when the State of Texas passed a minimum wage law covering agricultural workers.
This year, events in Rio Grande City in Starr County, Edinburg, Corpus Christi, San Antonio and Austin are celebrating their courageous march for justice. We join with many other religious, civic, and community leaders in endorsing the 50th Anniversary celebrations. The people who marched were persons motivated by their faith, their desire for a new future for their children and grandchildren, and their embrace of the prophet Micah's call to "act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:6-8).
We affirm and celebrate the efforts of our local churches, pastors, and laity, who are joining in the celebrations and acts of remembrance as all of us continue to work for a more just and equitable future for all.
The Episcopal Leadership Team of the Rio Texas Conference
Bishop Janice R. Huie
Bishop J. Michael Lowry
Bishop Joel N. Martínez
Bishop Robert Schnase
March of the Hopeful
A recollection by Bishop Joel N. Martínez
As a child, I picked cotton with my paternal Grandfather, Refugio Martinez, in Seguin. As teenager, I chopped cotton in West Texas one summer. As a college student, I worked with the National Council of Churches in Migrant Ministry in Minnesota and Wisconsin in the summer of 1958. Raquel and I later worked in Migrant Ministry in Indiana the summer of 1961.
So when I was invited to join the efforts of south Texas farm workers in their march for just wages and improved working conditions during my first pastorate in San Antonio in the summer of 1966, my faith, my life experience, and my heritage led me into a ministry of accompaniment of the poorest of workers in our state. As pastor of El Buen Pastor UMC in San Antonio, I helped organize the gathering of food, clothing, and funds for the families of the marchers. I marched in Kenedy, San Antonio, and Austin on that sunny Labor Day of September 1966 with 15,000 others up Congress Avenue to Capitol.
What I remember about the workers I met was their faith and hope in the future. Many were grandmothers and grandfathers who wanted a new future for their grandchildren and their future great-grandchildren. It reminded me about those summer days with grandfather Refugio and how he wanted me to succeed in school and how proud and hopeful he was about my future.
I marched in 1966 in honor and remembrance of generations of my family, in faithfulness to the Gospel, and solidarity with humble workers whose faith and hope helped to change me and my generation.
Bishop Joel N. Martinez
Participate in the Labor Day Celebrations!
To march with your United Methodist brothers and sisters during the San Antonio Labor Day Celebration, please click the link below. The San Antonio Celebration starts with an interfaith mass at 10:00 a.m. at San Fernando Cathedral in downtown San Antonio, Texas and ends at Milam Park at 1 p.m.
CLICK HERE TO RSVP FOR THE SEPT. 5 MARCH IN DOWNTOWN SAN ANTONIO