Friday, June 13, 2008

A Little Taste Of History (16)

Topic: The Dust Bowl

By the 1930s the Great Plains area of Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas had been farmed badly for decades, especially while trying to fill World War I demands for wheat. The GREAT DROUGHT of 1933 destroyed crops and dried the land, and severe dust storms began in 1934, blowing huge dust clouds from this Great Plains area over Chicago and all the way to the Atlantic. Residents of the plains were talking about DUST PNEUMONIA by 1935 and by 1936 everyone was calling the stricken area THE DUST BOWL. (For viewing photographs of the Dust Bowl click here).

Thousands of farm families left their unproductive land or were forced off by mortgage foreclosures. They piled their belongings on jalopies or old farm trucks and headed west, swelling the roving ranks of the unemployed during THE GREAT DEPRESSION. Since many were from Oklahoma, all were called OKIES, the word often being used to conjure up an offensive image of these uprooted, unskilled farmers and their large, undernourished families traveling wet like gypsies. Some eventually settled in shanty towns and city tenements, but many became itinerant, migratory farm workers. Other job seekers and local authorities cursed the arrival of the OKIES, while those who could afford to sympathized with their plight or at least read and talked about John Steinbeck's description of it in his 1939 best-selling, Pulitzer Prize novel The Grapes of Wrath.


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