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Guide to the James L. Vizzard Papers, 1942-1983
Special Collections M0324  
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The James L. Vizzard Papers document the activities of a Jesuit priest who spent more than thirty years lobbying, writing and speaking on behalf of migrant laborers, braceros and the rural poor in the United States. As the Washington representative for the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (and later for the United Farm Workers), Vizzard was instrumental in influencing legislation aimed at improving the lot of the largely unorganized agricultural labor force. The collection, which spans 16.5 linear feet, is comprised of correspondence, reports, newsletters, articles, minutes, agendas, legislative testimony, press releases, newsclippings, an oral history tape, and photographs. The records date from 1942 to 1983, the bulk having been generated between 1955 and 1977. The collection is arranged into eight series, the contents and arrangement of which are described below.
Father James L. Vizzard was born in San Francisco on February 17, 1916, to James L. and Mary Flaherty Vizzard. He attended Star of the Sea Grammar School and St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco. After graduating from high school, Vizzard joined the Society of Jesus in Los Gatos, California, on August 14, 1933. He received a B.A. (1939) and M.A. (1940) in philosophy from Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. In the early 1940s, while continuing his studies for the priesthood at Alma College in Los Gatos, Vizzard taught English and Latin at he University of Santa Clara and at Loyola High School in Los Angeles. He was ordained on June 13, 1946, by Archbishop John J. Mitty at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco. In 1947, Vizzard received the degree Licentiate of Sacred Theology from Alma College. He taught at Santa Clara one more year before going east to pursue doctoral studies. Vizzard's concern for the plight of migrant farm workers in Santa Clara orchards led him to study agricultural economics. He spent three months in Europe examining farming conditions and methods. He studied at Georgetown University, the United States Department of Agriculture Graduate School, and the University of Chicago from 1949 to 1953, but frequent bouts of ill health, including repeated hospitalization for a severe back injury, prevented him form completing his doctoral studies. He returned to the University of Santa Clara, teaching there from 1953 to 1955. Seeking a way to utilize his training in agricultural economics, Vizzard accepted a post as the first Washington, D.C. legislative representative of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC). The NCRLC, a coalition of bishops, priests and lay people founded in 1942, sought to make the public aware of the value of rural life and to provide a forum for the discussion of farm problems. The NCRLC's educational programs, publications, lobbying and policy-making efforts were directed towards improving the spiritual and material quality of life in predominantly rural parishes. Vizzard spent most of the years between 1955 and 1968 as the sole NCRLC representative in Washington. From June, 1958 to June, 1960 he was based in Des Moines, Iowa, helping the NCRLC battle a financial crisis. In recognition of his efforts in the behalf of rural people, Pope Paul VI awarded Vizzard the Benemerenti medal in 1968, when poor health forced him to resign his position with the NCRLC. Some of the legislative highlights of Vizzard's career as NCRLC lobbyist include the passage of the Migrant Medical Help Law in 1962, the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act in 1963, and the repeal of Public Law 78 (the bracero bill) in 1964. Vizzard testified more than one hundred times before congressional committees. In 1964, he co-chaired the National Conference on Poverty in the Southwest with Walter P. Reuther of the AFL-CIO and James Patton of the National Farmers Union. In addition to his numerous organizational affiliations, Fr. Vizzard maintained a heavy speaking schedule and published many articles. After returning to California in 1968, Vizzard took up a new challenge: the directorship of the then-dormant Social Apostolate of the California Province of the Society of Jesus. Vizzard felt that his fellow Jesuits had become too complacent about the social and economic ills of modern society, and he urged them to become fighters for social justice and civil rights. During this period, her lived for a year with two other priests in a low-income section of San Jose. He also served on the national board of directors of Project Equality, a group made up of clergy dedicated to eliminating discrimination within their own ranks and using the purchasing power of churches and religious organizations to support socially responsible companies. In 1972, Vizzard accepted an invitation from Cesar Chavez to become the legislative representative of the United Farm Workers union. Chavez asked that he concentrate immediately on strengthening the 1963 Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act, which had proved difficult to enforce. Vizzard's intensive months of lobbying came to fruition with the signing of the Farm Labor Contractor Registration Act Amendments of 1974. Another notable success was the Child Labor Law Amendment of 1974, which prohibited children under twelve from working in the fields. Other major issues of concern to the UFW included the proposed extension of the National Labor Relations Act to cover farm workers, unemployment insurance for farm workers, efforts to curb the influx of undocumented workers into the United States, and support for the 160-acre limitation for farms receiving water at federally-subsidized rates. In 1974, Vizzard was appointed by Secretary of Labor Peter Brennan to the Standards Advisory Committee on Agriculture, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Fr. Vizzard resigned his post with the UFW in 1977 and retired to Santa Clara, California.
16.5 linear ft.
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