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The Cesar-Shirley connection

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Following the death of Shirley Temple Black Feb. 10, Marc Grossman, Cesar Chavez’s longtime press secretary, speechwriter and personal aide, recalled that Black got Chavez to deliver one of his most memorable speeches on Nov. 9, 1984, when she served as president of the Commonwealth Club of California.

Black invited Chavez to address one of the group’s regular luncheons in San Francisco. “Cesar was hesitant at first,” noted Grossman, “because Mrs. Black was a well-known Republican and had served as President Nixon’s ambassador to Ghana.

“So he asked me to follow up. I called the Commonwealth Club and received a phone call back from Mrs. Black. She said she was an admirer of Cesar and was enthusiastic about having him address the Commonwealth Club.”

Chavez and Black had lunch together on the days before the speech “and got along like old friends,” said Grossman. “They shared common interests in gardening and vegetarianism. Mrs. Black related how she had been a member of the Screen Actors Guild as a child actor and maintained her membership in the union over the years so as to support other young actors. Much later when she had to undergo breast cancer surgery, Mrs. Black was surprised to discover the costs were covered because of her SAG membership.”

What has become known as “Cesar’s Commonwealth Club address” (before a large crowd in a hotel ballroom in San Francisco’s Financial District) “was one of the few occasions when he was very introspective, placing himself and his movement in an historical context,” said Grossman. “It has been widely quoted, from speech anthologies to director Diego Luna’s upcoming major motion picture, ‘Cesar Chavez’ (to be released March 28).”

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