American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California

By James N. Gregory | Go to book overview

Introduction

THE RAIN FELL STEADILY THAT DREARY MARCH MORNING AS PHOTOGRAPHER Dorothea Lange drove north towards San Francisco on California's Highway 101. In a hurry to get home, she initially ignored the crudely lettered sign leading to the pea-pickers' camp, deciding only after she had driven past to return and investigate. It was a decision that would make her famous. For on that wet day in 1936 Dorothea Lange would take her most memorable photograph. She had stumbled upon a scene of appalling proportions. More than a thousand people -- men, women, and children -- huddled against the rain in ragged tents and makeshift lean-tos, starving. They had come to San Luis Obispo County to pick peas, but a late frost had delayed the harvest. So they camped and waited. First their money had run out, and then the food. Ignored by local relief authorities, with nowhere to turn, many were now desperate.

America learned about the pea-pickers' camp through Lange's photographs, especially the one she called "Migrant Mother." The full-faced portrait of a gaunt, sunburnt woman, an infant cradled in her lap and two other children clinging close, touched the heart of a nation. Her face lined with worry and despair, this migrant madonna helped to awaken Americans to the plight of these particular families and thousands of others facing similar difficulties in Depression-torn California. 1

The press called them Dust Bowl refugees, although actually they came

-xiii-

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American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Introduction xiii
  • Part I - Migration and Resettlement 1
  • 1 - Out of the Heartland 3
  • 2 - The Limits of Opportunity 36
  • 3 - The Okie Problem 78
  • 4 - The Dilemma of Outsiders 114
  • Part II - The Okie Subculture 137
  • 5 - Plain-Folk Americanism 139
  • 6 - Up from the Dust 172
  • 7 - Special to God 191
  • 8 - The Language of a Subculture 222
  • Appendix A - Public Use Microdata Samples 249
  • Appendix B - Southwesterners in California Subregions 1935, 1940, 1950, 1970 250
  • Appendix C - Occupation and Income 1940-1970 252
  • Appendix D - Marriage Survey: Sources and Methodology 254
  • Abbreviations 255
  • Notes 257
  • Index 327
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