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The KHOU-TV Collection - News Clips, June 2 - 4, 1966

Houston Metropolitan Research Center

Sound | 1966

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  •  Charter Comm, 06/02/66: Mayor Louie Welch and the Houston City Council convene a meeting of the city charter committee 
  •  Turrentine on Ref. Omit, 06/02/66: Harris County Clerk R. E. Bob Turrentine comments on the possible implications of an election foul-up. Nearly 14,000 ballots cast in the May 7 Republican primary were invalidated after it was determined that they had omitted a pledge to support the GOP nominee in the general election. The pledge was required under the Texas Election Code. As a result, county officials were presumably left with only 36 absentee ballots to determine the election. This posed a particular problem for those running for justice of the peace positions. While all three candidates ran unopposed, they had not received any votes from the valid absentee ballots. By the time the mistake was uncovered, however, Turrentine had already certified the results and the deadline to contest the election had passed.  
  •  Valley Labor, 06/03/66: Laborers process melons at La Casita farm in Rio Grande City. La Casita was a subsidiary of Hardin Farms in Salinas, California, one of several major growing ranches at the center of the Starr County Strike. The farms produced a quarter of all honeydews in the country, but paid their workers unfair wages and subjected them to inhumane conditions.  
  •  Rio Grande Valley Strike, 06/03/66: KHOU reporter Nick Gearhart covers the Starr County Strike, or Farmworkers Melon Strike, happening in the Rio Grande Valley. He announces a federal court in Corpus Christi upholding a state court injunction against the Independent Workers Association, which picketed and lead strikes against the major melon farms in Starr County.  
  •  Gearhart interviews Eugene Nelson, a leader of the Independent Workers Association. Nelson moved to South Texas from California, where he had helped direct the grape pickers strike alongside Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association. When he arrived in the Rio Grande Valley, he organized workers with the demands for higher wages—$1.25 and hour, versus 40 cents an hour—and the right to bargain collectively. In this segment, Nelson mentions an occurrence where a spray rig sprayed some of the protesters. Demonstrations would continue for over a year.  
  •  Gearhart interviews Ralph Ross, assistant manager to La Casita, who acknowledges delayed production as a result of the pickets. Approximately 80 percent of area farmworkers quit on June 1, effectively shutting down every packing shed in Starr County. “We picked this time to begin our strike because it’s the melon season and the growers are more vulnerable,” Nelson said in a 1966 interview. “The growers will weaken before we will. People are more durable than cantaloupes.” 
  •  Melon Strikers Lyin, 06/04/66: Farm laborers picket outside melon growing ranches with signs reading “Huelga,” or “Strike”  
  •  Red Cross Swimmers, 06/04/66: Lifeguards with the American Red Cross teach a course on how to rescue someone from drowning in a swimming pool 
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This film from KHOU-TV Channel 11 in Houston contains a series of short news segments that would have aired as highlights to news stories. Many are silent and would have been voiced over by the anchorperson during a live broadcast. The titles for each segment are the originals created by KHOU-TV. The clips on this reel all date from June 2 to 4, 1966. This series primarily includes news segments about the Starr County Strike in the Rio Grande Valley organized by labor activist Eugene Nelson.
The digital preservation of this collection was made possible by a grant to the Texas Archive of the Moving Image and the Houston Public Library from the Texas State Library and Archives Commission and the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
Many more films from the KHOU-TV Collection are available on the Houston Public Library Houston Area Digital Archives website.
Beginning in the spring of 1966, farm workers—employed by multimillion dollar farm corporations in the Rio Grande Valley—began protesting harsh working conditions and unfair wages. This became known as the Melon Strike or Starr County Strike. Laborers reported wages ranging from 40 to 90 cents an hour, a stark contrast to the state minimum wage of $1.25. As a result, residents in Starr County lived in extreme poverty with minimal education and poor housing conditions. 
Author and activist Eugene Nelson moved from California to Mission, Texas, in the lower Rio Grande Valley in May 1966. A leader of the Independent Workers Association, Nelson had previously worked alongside Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association with the grape pickers strikes. He came to Texas to organize and unionize farm workers. With Nelson’s help, laborers demanded $1.25 an hour and the right to collectively bargain. 
Major growers, including La Casita Farms, Griffin & Brand Trophy Farms, Starr Farms, Margo Farms, and Elmore & Stahl refused the demands, prompting more unrest and further protest. On June 1, 1966, more than 400 workers went on strike against the six major melon farms in the area. Local police forces and county officials attempted to outlaw picketing and even sprayed picketers with insecticide. 
By the end of June, strikers embarked on a 490-mile march, now referred to as La Marcha or the Minimum Wage March of 1966, from the Rio Grande Valley to the State Capitol Building in Austin. Throughout Texas, marchers met with many local government officials, church officials, and residents, who endorsed their campaign. Appropriately enough, protesters arrived at the capitol on Labor Day and had accumulated around 15,000 marchers. Although the march did not produce any concrete change, such as the labor wage, it became a hugely publicized and symbolic event that brought such inhumane treatment to the forefront of the American collective consciousness. It helped the Mexican-American population gain a voice they previously did not have, and it paved the way for future labor reform and organized farmers unions. 
After a year of strikes, picketing, and even some cases of violence, the focus of the movement shifted from organizing mass demonstrations to providing services for union members and residents. Hurricane Beulah of September 20, 1967, devastated the Rio Grande Valley, forcing the union to rebuild the economy and improve living conditions of local residents.