Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Citizenship Contested: The 1930s Domestic Migrant Experience in California's San Joaquin Valley

Academic journal article Southeastern Geographer

Citizenship Contested: The 1930s Domestic Migrant Experience in California's San Joaquin Valley

Article excerpt

Citizenship has come to the forefront of contemporary political, social, and geographical debate. Recent research has importantly highlighted the multiple scales at which citizenship is acquired and maintained, but has most typically theorized citizenship from the perspectives and experiences of transnational migrants or ethnic groups. In this article, I explore barriers to full citizenship through a case study of domestic Okie migrants to the California San Joaquin Valley in the 1930s. As poor whites pushed from their home states, Okies were not only subject to social and legal marginalization that paralleled the experiences of California residents of seemingly foreign origin. Despite holding national de jure citizenship, the domestic-born impoverished Okies faced public outcry and legal attempts at exclusion due to their perceived limited ability to assimilate into local de facto expectations of proper citizenship.

Temas de ciudadania han llegado a dominar el debate politico, social y geografico contemporaneo. Investigaciones recientes han puesto en evidencia las multiples escalas en las que la ciudadania se adquiere y se mantiene, pero tipicamente han teorizado la ciudadania desde las per spectivas y experiencias de los migrantes transnacionales o grupos etnicos. En este articulo, exploro las barreras obstaculizando la ciudadania plena a traves de un estudio de caso de los migrantes internos okie al Valle de San Joaquin de California en la decada de 1930. Como blancos pobres expulsados de sus estados de origen, los okies no solo estaban sujetos a la marginacion social y legal que replicaba las experiencias de los residentes de California de aparente origen extranjero. A pesar de poseer ciudadania nacional de jure, los empobrecidos okies nacidos dentro del territorio nacional se enfrentaron a protestas publicas y a intentos legales de exclasion debido a su percibida limitada capacidad de asimilarse alas expectativas locales de facto sobre ciudadania apropiada.

KEY WORDS: California, citizenship, Great Depression, domestic migrants


By Autumn 1941, Fred Edwards and his brother-in-law Frank Duncan found themselves at the center of a U.S. Supreme Count legal debate. At stake was Edwards' freedom as almost two years earlier he had been convicted under [section] 2615 of California's Welfare and Institutions Code of knowingly bringing an indigent person, Duncan, into the state. For this offense, Edwards was sentenced to six months in the county jail. Although the sentence was suspended, Edwards nonetheless contested the constitutionality of the state law that criminalized and effectively banned the free travel of all U.S. citizens across state lines.

After an unsuccessful appeal of his conviction in the Yuba County Superior Court, Edwards sought legal recourse through the U.S. Supreme Court where he was represented by attorney Samuel Slaff. Slaffargued that interstate migration constitutes a form of commerce and "economic necessity" as it is a redistribution of population from areas lacking economic opportunity to areas of the country that may offer employment (U.S. Congress. House 1942, p 9997). Therefore, Slaff contended, the State of California could not restrict the flow of persons, indigent or not, across state lines as it would be a violation of Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution. The attorney representing the State of California, Charles A. Wetmore, Jr., countered that the law was indeed a proper exercise of police power as legal precedent, including Article W of both the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution, had previously supported the right of states to exclude paupers, traitors, and criminals from their boundaries, particularly if those in-migrants would likely become dependent upon public support.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that overturned Edwards' conviction and rendered California's code unconstitutional. …

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