CSO History Project

Date:    Sun, 8 Sep 1996 03:17:30 CDT
Sender:  H-Net/H-Urban Seminar on History of Community Organizing &
From:    Wendy Plotkin 
Subject: Community Service Organization (CSO) History Project
Posted by Scott Washburn 
This is a first draft of a project that CSO is undertaking. We believe
that it is a good way to start organizing the new future of CSO by
understanding and valuing the past. We would appreciate it if you could
look it over and give us some input. There is very little that we are
aware of that has been written about CSO's glory days. Maybe somebody
has done a study or dissertation or something.
1947 - 1997
March, 1997, marks the 50th Anniversary of the Community Service
Organization.  In 1947, in direct response to rampant police abuse, a
lack of educational opportunities, widespread discrimination in
government services, a strong culture of bigotry that allowed even
people of good conscience to turn a blind eye to the suffering of their
neighbors, and ultimately, to the  Zoot Suit Riots  and  Bloody
Christmas,  the Community Service Organization was founded by Antonio
Rios, Edward Roybal, and Fred Ross, Sr.  Quickly, the CSO became a
training ground for the first generation of Latino leaders, including
Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, and Gilbert Padilla.  Recognizing the
need for a unified Latino voice and for some semblance of political
representation, the CSO initially concentrated on organizing voter
registration drives in Latino communities all across California.  In
1949, the CSO s efforts culminated in the election of Edward Roybal,
the first Latino to serve on the Los Angeles City Council.
Success had its rewards.  In less than two years, more than 5,000
people joined the CSO and soon, a statewide organization grew out of
the grassroots efforts of the founders.  With chapters in 35 cities
throughout California, thousands of people began working on the same
kinds of programs that had made the campaign in Los Angeles so
successful.  Citizenship drives, voter registration, and electoral
campaigns brought hope to areas where before there had been only fear
and despair.
At its height in the 1960s, the CSO was a force to be recognized and
few decisions could be made by those in power without first factoring
in how the CSO would respond.  In fact, the CSO was one of the most
powerful institutions in the state of California, and soon the ideas
and leadership spawned by the CSO grew into one of the nation s most
powerful organizing efforts -- the United Farm Workers (UFW) and  The
The CSO History Project comes at a critical time in California history.
On the negative side, the recent groundswell of opposition targeting
Latino immigration -- both legal and illegal -- as well as calls for
 English First  and the dismantling of programs designed to level the
playing field have all contributed to an increase in attention and
interest in the Latino reality behind the rhetoric.  If those who
ignore history are destined to repeat it, those who learn from and
appreciate the past are in a better position to help create the future.
And, as the recent PBS multi-part series,  Chicano!  proved, the story
behind California's Latino communities is rich in drama, struggle,
pathos, and strength.
The story of the CSO -- barely mentioned in the PBS series -- is really
the untold story of the Latino struggle for power and equality within
the greater California society.  As a training ground for a whole
generation of Latino leadership, the CSO is the father of the UFW, the
mother of the Chicano Movement, and the brother and sister of the Civil
Rights struggle in the South.  Of course, fifty years after its
founding, many of the first leaders have already passed away.  The
importance of the CSO History Project becomes clear when we consider
that many of the original CSO members still with us will not be here to
share their story for many more years.
That these leaders should pass on without receiving the honor that is
due them, an honor best expressed by documenting their stories, would
be a national shame.  Their stories offer critically important lessons
in the power of participation in the struggle for equality, the power
in unity and community action, the power of perseverance and hope, and
the power of organizing people who have no power.  On one level, the
story of the CSO is that most American of stories:  It s a story about
how a few individuals offer hope to a community, turn that hope into
action, and ultimately prevail over what many would have considered
impossible odds.
The CSO History Project will provide California's Latino communities --
and most particularly, thousands of Latino high school and college
students -- with the opportunity to witness an important, and unknown,
piece of their heritage.  While whole sections of high school history
and social science classes are rightly devoted to the Civil Rights
Struggle, and countless Latino children submit biographical profiles or
school projects based on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy,
or today's sports heroes, the role of the CSO in creating today s
Latino reality receives barely a mention.  Certainly, Cesar Chavez has
increasingly become a hero for many, but even here the history books
talk about his struggle to form the UFW and manage  The Boycott,
rather than his earlier formative experience as president of the CSO.
But what about the stories of Fred Ross, Sr., Gilbert Padilla, Ed
Roybal, Dolores Huerta, and many others?
The CSO History Project will make the story of the CSO accessible to
thousands of Los Angeles-area high school and college students.
Designed to be both an interesting story and an informative source of
research, the various facets of the history -- oral and visual (via
computer and in a  museum space ) will be created to be challenging
(verbally, historically, politically), exciting, and a valuable
addition to their overall learning experience.  While the history will
be complete in itself, it will encourage further research into that
time in history, into the lives of important organizers, into the world
of community organizing, and into a whole future of possibility.  It
will also offer guidance and direction to make that research possible.
There are four main components to the CSO History Project:  a video, an
oral history; a written history; and an on-site collection of archival
An approximately 20-minute video,  The History of the CSO,  will be
produced in time for the March, 1997, Golden Anniversary of the
organization.  It will not only honor the original founders and first
organizers of the CSO, but will also provide viewers with a short
history of the first twenty years or so of the CSO.  The video will be
put together using archival materials, news footage, newspaper
clippings, interviews with participants, and narration.
It might begin with the "Zoot Suit Riots," or "Bloody Christmas," and
end with the  War on Poverty.   In between, we will document the early
citizenship campaign and voter registration drive that led to the
election of Edward Roybal as the first Latino member of the Los Angeles
City Council; the community meetings and organizing that went into
these campaigns, and the development of the CSO from a single office
with a few dedicated members into a statewide organization boasting
tens of thousands of members in cities all across the state.  The video
will then be presented as the culminating event at the Anniversary
Fifty years after its founding, there are still several dozen original
members of the CSO living in California.  They are the CSO s  living
history,  a rich source of information and anecdote, the only direct
connection that still exists to those aspects of history -- the tone,
the personality, the passion -- that can only be hinted at in words or
pictures.  For this part of the CSO History Project, we will contact as
many  veterans  as we can find and record their memories of the first
days and years of the CSO in their own words.  We plan to have a team
of  oral historians  travel throughout California, meet with CSO
 veterans,  and record their stories, anecdotes, and memories.  The
recordings will then be catalogued and edited into a series of cassette
tapes using narration to link stories and subjects into a coherent
history.  The CSO Oral History will also be available via computer by
accessing the CSO Web Site.
The written history of the CSO will be created out of the materials
gathered for both the video and the oral history.  Initially, a short
 pamphlet  style booklet will be developed as a companion piece to the
video and the cassettes, however this will be expanded into a larger,
more inclusive history that would be made available to school districts
and universities throughout California.  Incorporating transcripts,
photos, news clippings, and other information, the history would also
include a full narrative of events as seen from the various
perspectives of those involved and from the comparatively objective
view of the narrative writer(s).
Eventually, we will create a museum space within the CSO Headquarters
building in East Los Angeles.  The space will feature displays of
important archival materials, historical photos of CSO members, a
display history of the Organization, and other such materials that are
discovered during the initial research into the overall project.  In
addition to being a unique repository for the CSO s history, the museum
space will also offer LA area students an invaluable learning
experience and will be available for class trips and individual
research.  We also believe that the CSO  Museum  can serve as a
prototype for a future Latino/Chicano Museum of History.  Although not
a part of this proposal, we believe this latter would be an important
addition to the cultural history of Los Angeles and the state.
The CSO s Golden Anniversary is in March, 1997.  A specific day has not
yet been chosen for the celebration, but we anticipate it to be in or
around the 3rd week of March.  Given that as the initial deadline, here
is a suggested timeline for the first stage of the CSO History Project:
September, 1996
 1.  Finalize strategy
     a.  Identify possible Project Director
     b.  Develop initial proposal
     c.  Identify potential funding sources and submit grants
     d. Develop list of potential participants for video and oral history
     e.  Develop approval strategy for CSO BoD
     f.  Make initial political contacts for letters of support
     g.  Begin development of video narrative
     h.  Contact School Districts for letters of interest
October, 1996
 1.  Assemble Team
     a.  Project Director
     b.  Video Team
     c.  Oral History Team
     d.  Research Team
 2.  Form Independent Production Co.
 3.  Funding
     a.  Pursue outstanding opportunities
     b.  Develop new sources
     c.  Develop November Fund-raiser (post-election)
 4.  Begin development of narrative story for video
 5.  Research Web Site procedures and identify designer
 1.  Schedule oral and video interviews for January shoot
 2.  Continue research
 3.  Funding
     a.  Pursue outstanding opportunities
     b.  Develop new sources
 4.  Fund-raiser (late in November or early December)
 5.  Progress report for School Districts who have expressed interest
 1.  Finalize research and assemble materials
 2.  Finalize video and oral history schedule
     a.  Contract for narrator(s) for both oral and video
 3.    Complete video narrative
 4.    Funding
     a.  Pursue outstanding opportunities
     b.  Develop new sources
 5.  Prepare necessary equipment, contracts (video duplication, tape
duplication,  packaging, etc.)
 6.  Develop list of supporters (via fund-raiser)
 7.  Begin PR campaign
 1.  Shoot video
 2.  Tape oral history
 3.  Solicit archival materials
 4.  Funding
     a.  Pursue outstanding opportunities
     b.  Develop new sources
 1.  Edit video
     a.  Narration
 2.  Catalogue and edit oral history
     b.  Narration
 3.  Assemble and begin cataloging of archival material
 4.  Write and print short written history (video/tape companion)
 1.  Duplicate and package videos and tapes
 2.  Begin development of museum space in CSO Building
     a.  Design space
     b.  Develop display building schedule
     c.  Write display narratives
Scott Washburn
Community Service Organization
Los Angeles