Meister: The Courage of Rose Bird

Pub date December 14, 2009
SectionBruce Blog

Dick Meister, is a former City Editor of the Oakland Tribune, labor editor of the SF Chronicle and labor reporter on KQED-TV’s “Newsroom.” Contact him through his website,, which includes more than 250 of his recent columns.

The Courage of Rose Bird

By Dick Meister

Farmworkers rarely have had a greater champion than Rose Bird, the late chief justice of California’s Supreme Court who died ten years ago this month, her vital help for farmworkers largely forgotten by the general public.

Much was made of Bird’s unyielding opposition to capital punishment, a stand that was most responsible for voters ousting her from the court in 1986. But close attention also should be paid to her role in granting basic rights to farmworkers and others who had long been denied them.

Bird’s public efforts on their behalf began two years before she joined the court in 1977, during her tenure as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown’s secretary of agriculture. Bird, the first woman to hold any cabinet-level position in California, was also one of the few non-growers who’ve held the agriculture post.