During the 1960s and 70s, Fruitvale was a hotspot for widespread activism. The Chicano Movement, born from frustrations of socio-economic and racial inequity, was one call to action. Hispanic activists took the name “Chicanos”—previously considered a slur against those with Central and South American ancestry—to reclaim cultural and political power.
A key part of the movement was the fight for farmworkers’ rights: Hispanic laborers worked long, strenuous hours, were paid wages as low as $.90/hour, and often lived in segregated, substandard housing. Led by César Chávez, a former laborer and community organizer, farmworkers—particularly grape pickers—from across California went on strike to protest their poor working conditions. The grape boycott in cities across the U.S. empowered the farmworkers’ union to secure health benefits, improved sanitary conditions, and required rest periods. Fruitvale was a key organizing center for the movement, with Chávez himself being a frequent visitor.
Many Fruitvale community organizations grew out of this period of local activism. For example, The Unity Council was founded in 1964 with the mission to “promote social equity and improve quality of life by building vibrant communities where everyone can work, learn, and thrive.” The Council is perhaps best known for leading the development of the Fruitvale Village in the mid-1990s. Initially, BART intended to build a concrete parking structure next to the Fruitvale BART Station. The Unity Council convinced them to abandon the parking plan, leading to the creation of Fruitvale Village, a multi-use, transit-oriented development (TOD) which includes a community center, affordable housing, retail, and restaurants. The Village helped boost the local economy without displacing residents.
Another significant organization is La Clínica de la Raza, which was established in the 1970s to help minimize disparities in healthcare quality for low-income citizens. Since its founding, the center has provided multilingual, comprehensive healthcare services to underserved populations, regardless of their ability to pay. La Clínica de la Raza and The Unity Council are still active today, continuing to empower and serve the Fruitvale community.
Cover image credit: The Unity Council