The aftermath of an American migration of epic portions can now be studied alongside the 1940 Census. I am referring to the Dust Bowl (1930-1936), with Oklahoma being the center. While affecting blacks, it’s mainly thought of in terms of poor whites and Native Americans. That brings us to why this topic is important for an Irish blog. Scores of these Oklahoma residents were of Scots-Irish descent.
This period of history is sometimes referred to as the “Dirty Thirties.” Severe dust storms, called “Black Blizzards,” and “Black Rollers,” literally made visibility a couple of feet. The storms were intensified by the poor farming methods of the time. It blew away the middle part of the country. It was centered in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas; destroying the crops, cattle, farms, and the sharecropping way of life.
This caused such upheaval, there is no shortage of books and websites dedicated to this period. The derogatory term “Okie” was popularized for the massive migration of the poor white migrant workers from Oklahoma who went to find work in California. Some estimates are that 15% of the state left for California during the Dust Bowl. Their plight was popularized in the American imagination by the classic novel by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (1940).
They are the hidden part of the Depression Era national tragedy that took people with little and left them with nothing. The Dust Bowl exodus constituted the largest mass migration of Americans in the shortest time with 2.5 million people on the move, and at least 200,000 of those headed for California.
A good place to start with learning more about the Dust Bowl is the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture article on the “Dust Bowl” http://digital.library.okstate.edu/encyclopedia/entries/D/DU011.html Ken Burns PBS documentary “The Dust Bowl” premieres on November 18th and 19th www.pbs.org/kenburns/dustbowl so mark your calendars.
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