On the Dirty Plate Trail: Remembering the Dust Bowl Refugee Camps
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A vivid, firsthand account of the migrations, immigrant camps, and labor organizing of displaced Midwestern farmers during the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, illustrated with striking photographs.
as if we’d been A caller come to visit them at home. Some people seem to think they had no homes; That migrant farmers never owned a farm, But came out West from downright laziness To leech upon the bounty of the rich, The corporation-farms and state relief. To see a strong man flat upon his back, Too weak to move because there was no food, No work, and no relief. To hear him say: “We’ll find a way out yet. We ain’t give up, But we won’t go on starving.”To see a woman With a wordless
example, as engaged in a struggle to maintain dignity and composure. “The urge,” Levine argues, “to deprive people without power of any determination over their destiny, of any pleasure in their lives, of any dignity in their existence, knows no single part of the political spectrum.... The only culture the poor are supposed to have is the culture of poverty; worn faces and torn clothing, dirty skin and dead eyes, ramshackle shelters and disorganized lives. Any forms of contentment or
government for granted; they thought it was theirs; they thought America somehow belonged to the people and America was to them this strip of Oklahoma where they have worked all their lives, and it had belonged to them until now. I heard their questions and groping faltering answers, and I heard them say over and over again they must stick together now. But they do not quite know how to unite and make it known: they are ready and they need to know, and someone must make it clear to them that
many families who had had no work, and were too weak and hungry to look any more. Some of them had no beds and were sleeping in old barns on hay or on the bare ground. One pregnant woman with nine children was sleeping in a shed with several calves in order to keep warm. They had no covers or furniture of any kind and had lost their car. Many families were lying in bed unable to get up. Many of them were on the last of their food with no way of getting more. Some of them had already received
December for cotton, and into the Imperial Valley in November and December for late peas, and spring peas in February. This movement of course does not absorb all the workers because there is not work enough for the ones who do move into these crops. But they expect strikes in the fruit and again in the cotton. CIO labor organizer There are any number of reasons why a relief check or a job will not slow them up. The Jim-Crowism practiced against them and their children in school as “Okies” is