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No Home. No Job. No Welcome.



Doris Weddell is making a difference.

Furious duststorms drove the Okies west
Furious duststorms drove the Okies west
"We're going out West", said Pa Joad.

"Out West?" cried the Joad family.

"Yep", said Pa. "Oklahoma is all dried up and we can't make the payments on the farm. We have to leave and I hear there's work in California picking fruit."

And so the Joad family piled all their belongings onto their old truck and headed out to California. They were called "Oakies" becaseu they were from Oklahoma. Once there, they found that the jobs picking fruit were not what they had thought they would be.

The fruit picking company was awful to its workers, paying them only enough to just get by. The company made them buy all their food from the company store which charged almost twice as much for food as a regular store would have. And, the company made them stay in a run down shack instead of a house.

The Joads weren't the only family living in such an awful place. Many other families lived along side the Joads. They too worked long hours for little pay and lived in shacks. There was no way to save money and leave this place. All their money was spent just surviving from day to day.

Proud Okie, Earl Shelton
Proud Okie, Earl Shelton
This is a story called The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck. It was written to show how people lived during the depression. After reading the book, Irene and I went to Bakersfield to learn more about the experience from those who had lived it. Earl Shelton was eager to share his personal story.

Earl is an Okie. Earl wears this name with pride, along with his cowboy boots, silver belt buckle, and southern accent. Oakies were always on the move looking for work. Earl tells us that "when there was a nickel to be made, that's where we went. But then you'd get there and there'd be too many people" who wanted the same job you did, and you'd have to pick up and move again to find something else.

Earl ended up in a government camp for homeless workers called Arvin. At first they were in a tent but he and his father and brother moved into a tin house after a while. He remembers the orange crates and apple boxes that they used as their furniture.

A tin house seemed magnificent to the impoverished Okies
A tin house seemed magnificent to the impoverished Okies
Earl then tells us of the amazing school, started by two teachers, that was built from the ground up by the children themselves. Bakersfield parents did not want the Okie children in their schools, so Superintendent Leo Hart decided the Okie children should have their own. Bright, young teachers from all over were brought in to teach the basic classes, but also to teach the children life skills and technical skills. The school had its own garden to grow most of the food served in the cafeteria. It acquired extra airplanes from the military, and used them as classrooms, teaching aircraft maintenance to the excited Okie children. They even dug their own swimming pool. Earl loves to talk about this place and tells us that "there will never be another school like it."

Government camps like Arvin and the school the children built there reminded me that despite the heartless behavior of the farmers, there were many caring people who wanted to give the Okies a fair, fighting chance at survival.

So what happened to the Okies? Well, World War II provided jobs for most of the farm workers. One generation after their arrival in California, you won't find an Okieville anywhere. Earl and the other Okie children have worked their way through school and into good jobs. They are a success story, and have left the starvation, poverty, disease and cruelty they grew up with behind them.


Please email me at: rebecca@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Stephen - For Rent: 1 cardboard box, doubles as an apartment during hard times
Daphne - The nation goes belly up on Black Tuesday