NPR: The forgotten 1965 high school farm worker program
NPR reported last week on a long-forgotten program in the summer of 1965 when the federal government recruited thousands of high school boys to replace Mexican agricultural workers.
Labor Secretary W. Willard Wirtz wanted to recruit 20,000 teenagers to replace the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans who had worked under the Bracero Program, NPR reported.
The Bracero Program, started in World War II, was an agreement that brought Mexican men to pick harvests across the United States. “It ended in 1964, after years of accusations by civil rights activists like Cesar Chavez that migrants suffered wage theft and terrible working and living conditions,” NPR said.
“But farmers complained — in words that echo today’s headlines — that Mexican laborers did the jobs that Americans didn’t want to do, and that the end of the Bracero Program meant that crops would rot in the fields.”
Wirtz established what he called the “A-TEAM — Athletes in Temporary Employment as Agricultural Manpower.” But although more than 18,000 boys signed up, only about 3,300 got sent to pick crops, and few of the boys were athletes. Many dropped out after just a few weeks working in the same conditions as the Mexicans, and the program quickly faded away, the NPR story said.
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