After services this morning, a visiting Unitarian Universalist from St. John’s Unitarian Universalist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, told me while he was in California he was going to visit Rosemary Matson. He told me that Rosemary Matson’s husband, Rev. Howard G. Matson, had been a chaplain to Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers, and Rosemary herself continued to be involved.

On the Farmworker Movement Documentation Web site, I found more information about Rosemary and Howard Matson. Howard Matson helped found the National Farm Worker Ministry, an interfaith group supporting farmworkers. Together, Rosemary and Howard had created the Unitarian Universalist Migrant Ministry. Both of them worked with Cesar Chavez and other major figures in the struggle to gain rights for Mexican Americans. Rosemary Matson recorded this anecdote about Chavez:

I remember my unexpectedly providing lunch for Cesar and 15 of his delegation at our home in Berkeley. They were between meetings in Oakland. A trip to the deli for pans of lasagna sufficed for all except Cesar, who I found out was a vegetarian, drank carrot juice, and needed a nap.

We have just completed a “Justice General Assembly” focused on immigrants’ rights. Although Rosemary Matson received an honorary degree from Starr King School fo the Ministry, I cannot help but think we should be paying more attention to those Unitarian Universalists who have been working on this broad issue since the 1960s.

6 thoughts on “Pioneers”

  1. Rosemary’s work was wide ranging and impressive. She worked on Farmworker rights, Women’s Rights, and many justice issues. I knew Howard after he had retired from ministry. Thanks for mentioning them as Pioneers.

  2. When I moved to California, I looked up the UU Migrant Ministry, hoping to get involved. It appeared not to have existed for years. For that matter, the UFW has barely expanded past grapes in my lifetime. Here’s the list of items for which you can be certain the workers had a contract, and it’s depressingly short. Lettuce? Apples? Apparently none of them were picked by union workers. (The UFW did just achieve a big tomato contract.

    The Ethical Eating study/action issue also dealt with farmworker treatment, but so far I don’t see an increase in awareness of our historical involvement in worker justice, nor an increase in concern for the people who grow the country’s food.

  3. Yes, we should be paying more attention to Rosemary. She was also instrumental in the Women & Religion movement – when she and Howard founded the Migrant Ministry, 2% of our ministers were women. 2%. It just bogles today’s mind …!

    I guess it’s time to raise Howard and Rosemary’s story again – they were longtime PCD members and if the local folks are forgetting ….

  4. Amy — You write: “so far I don’t see an increase in awareness of our historical involvement in worker justice”

    Alas, Unitarian Universalists have not been strong on workers’ rights. In practice, we’re at best neutral on unions, sometimes definitely anti-union. A lot of our people come from management, so they’re really not going to be sympathetic to unions.

    Chuck — Yes, maybe it is time for PCD to raise the Matson’s story again — maybe we can prompt the wider UUA to pay more attention to these pioneers.

  5. Wouldn’t paying attention to people who’ve been working on particular justice issues require UUs to do two things they don’t want to do:

    1. Not be issue dillitantes.
    2. Know their history in regards to U-U-UU participation/non-participation in these social justice issues.

  6. I participated on the Creating Peace listserv and one of my suggestions was GA’s review whatever was going to pass in subsequent GAs, and evaluate what we said in light of how it would apply to the future.

    After a while on the list, it dawned on me what was being debated really reflected more on the groups perceptions of the United States at the moment, than a tool towards creating peace. (Visit sites like Systematic Peace and you realize there are people who approach the issue in a workmen like fashion asking themselves what works, what doesn’t).

    I suspect this last GA will say more about the state of the UU mind (at least the mind revealed at GA) then come up with any solutions for the plight of folks here in the US without vistas or status.

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