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

By James N. Gregory | Go to book overview

6

Up from the Dust

IT WAS 1952, AND OLIVER CARLSON WAS BACK IN KERN COUNTY, TRYING TO FIND out what had happened to the Dust Bowl migrants. He had spent time there before, in the late 1930s. Much had changed, including the investigator himself. At one time he had been willing to highlight the inequalities of American life; now his eyes were trained on evidence of the selfrestorative ability of "America's system of free opportunity for all." And he was sure he had found it. Gone were the dilapidated cars, the roadside encampments, the tents and ragged clothes, the hungry looks that he remembered. The terrible poverty of the 1930s had vanished. The valley seemed more prosperous now, and the Okies with it. "The pariahs, outcasts and social lepers of yesterday have become . . . worthy and respected members of the communities in which they settled. They are honest and industrious. They have better homes, better jobs, and greater economic security than ever before. They have regained their self-esteem; and they walk, talk, work and vote as equals among equals."

Especially impressive was the new look of the communities south of Bakersfield, the little towns of Arvin, Lamont, and Weedpatch in the area that had provided the setting for parts of The Grapes of Wrath. Streets of "tar-paper shacks, tents, and trailers" had given way to "modern but modest frame cottages," and men and women who had once drifted in to pick cotton now distributed themselves across many occupations and activities.

-172-

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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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