Dust bowl refugees of all the stories of western

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Dust Bowl Refugees Of all the stories of western Americans, none is quite so poignant as that of the Dust Bowl refugees of the 1930s. A devastating drought ravaged the farmlands of Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas; monstrous dust storms blackened the sky. George Turner, a resident of Oklahoma, later described what it was like when he and his family were hit by a blizzard of dust: "It was an unbelievable darkness... We seemed to be smothering in dust." Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Dust Bowl salvaged what they could, piled their belongings into rattling jalopies, and headed for the promised land of California. They hoped to find good jobs and a better life. They soon found, however, that conditions in California were not quite what they imagined. Jobs were scarce. And many Californians greeted the newcomers with hostility.
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58 John Steinbeck The most enduring account of the Dust Bowl refugees' trek to California is John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath (1939). Steinbeck was born on February 27, 1902, in the farming town of Salinas. After attending Stanford University for six years (and failing to complete the requirements for a degree), he went to New York City where he worked as a construction laborer and reporter. In the 1930s he published a series of critically acclaimed novels, each set in California's central coast and valleys. An "Okie Subculture" Historians recently have begun to analyze the inner dynamics and institutions of the "Okie subculture" in California. The term "Okie" encompassed not just displaced Oklahomans, but all those Dust Bowl refugees who fled the southwestern states hit by drought and depression. The Okies who settled in California's Central Valley preserved their rural values and folkways, including their distinctive southwestern accents, food preferences, and country music. Thus, to a remarkable degree, the newcomers retained their separate identities and passed them on to succeeding generations. The dance halls and honky-tonks of the Okies fostered positive social interaction and reinforced group identity. Country music stars, such as Gene Autry and Bob Wills, became important success symbols and sources of group pride. Known as "Nashville West," Bakersfield launched the careers of such notables as Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Glen Campbell, and Ferlin Husky. Total Engagement Historian Carey McWilliams once characterized the struggle between labor and capital in California as one of "total engagement." The struggle intensified during the 1930s as agricultural workers suffered the peculiar agony of watching food rot in the fields because the crops could not be sold for enough to pay the costs of harvesting and marketing. John Steinbeck commented: "There is a crime here that goes beyond denunciation. There is a sorrow here that weeping cannot symbolize. There is a failure here that topples all our success." Workers formed new organizations to fight for improvements in wages and working conditions.
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  • Spring '11
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