Photographer's career chronicles farmworker struggles

Historic march to Austin marks 50th anniversary

By Jessie Degollado - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - Photographer Alan Pogue has devoted much of his long career to the struggles of farm workers.

Pogue said he learned after returning from Vietnam, "only people who are really desperate for the work are doing these jobs."

Tired of being "some of the poorest paid workers in the country," Rebecca Flores, formerly state director of the United Farm Workers, said many in Starr County finally went on strike in 1966.

Pogue's stark black and white images showed why farm workers then began a nearly 500-mile march from the Rio Grande Valley to Austin -- whether it be by bus or foot.

The 50th anniversary of the historic march will be commemorated this Labor Day in front of San Fernando Cathedral, where the farm workers had stopped on their way to Austin.

Flores said many were earning 40 cents an hour for mostly stoop labor in the South Texas heat, harvesting food they couldn't afford.

Pogue said he wondered, "How is it we're treating people in South Texas like that?"

Flores said farm workers were demanding a $1.25 minimum wage and decent working conditions as basic as porta-potties.

Several of Pogue's photographs showed them using the short-handled hoe.

He said they served no real purpose other than, he was told, "At least if the farm workers are bent over, we know they're doing something."

Flores said banning that hoe and other short-handled implements was an early victory.

She said coverage by worker's and unemployment  compensation  followed, as well as regulating pesticide use in the fields.

Inspired by her mentor Cesar Chavez's California boycott, Flores said the march had helped galvanize the movement in Texas, later bearing fruit in terms of social and political leaders who took up the struggle.
Pogue's photographs brought to light their humanity that had been too long ignored.

"They had no rights," Pogue said.

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