Path Home Shows 2011 Show Archive July 2011 Show 1130 Dust to Dust

Dust to Dust

Move or starve were the words one migrant chose to describe his options during Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl. Between 1935 and 1940 over 300,000 Oklahomans moved out of state in search of work.
Dust to Dust

Huge cloud of dust

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Oklahoma Dust Bowl

Show Dates

Show 1130: Dust to Dust

Air date: July 24, 2011

 

Transcript

ROB MCCLENDON:  WELL BETWEEN 1935 AND 1940, OVER 300,000 OKLAHOMANS, A THIRD OF OUR POPULATION AT THAT TIME, MOVED OUT OF STATE IN SEARCH OF WORK.  THOSE WHO LEFT FACED THE HARDSHIPS OF A GREAT DEPRESSION; AND THOSE WHO STAYED, WELL, THEY CHOKED ON CLOUDS OF DUST.  THE DUST BOWL IS AN OFTEN TOLD TALE HERE IN OKLAHOMA, YET THE REAL STORY IS ONE THAT GOES WELL BEYOND BAD WEATHER AND HARD TIMES; AND, SPEAKS TO CHANGING ECONOMIC REALITIES THAT WE CAN STILL LEARN FROM TODAY.

[TRUMPET SOUNDS]

AS THE FIRST TANKS ROLLED THROUGH EUROPE DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR, AMERICA’S FARMERS WERE PLOWING THE PLAINS.  DEMAND FOR U S WHEAT HAD NEVER BEEN HIGHER.  WHEN AMERICA ENTERED THE CONFLICT, WASHINGTON URGED FARMERS TO PRODUCE EVEN MORE WITH THE SLOGAN “FOOD WILL WIN THE WAR.”

MOVIE EXCERPT:  THEN WE REAPED THE GOLDEN HARVEST.  THEN WE REALLY PLOWED THE PLAINS.

ROB:  PRICES MORE THAN DOUBLED, AND FARMERS FLOCKED TO FIELDS HOPING TO CASH IN; BUT THE DEMAND WAS A BUBBLE THAT WOULD BURST.  AFTER THE WAR, PRICES PLUNGED, AND FARMERS ARMED WITH TRACTORS, RESPONDED TO FALLING PRICES BY PLANTING MORE, HOPING INCREASED VOLUME COULD OFFSET DECREASING PRICES.

MOVIE EXCERPT:  WE HAD THE MANPOWER.  WE INVENTED NEW MACHINERY.  THE WORLD WAS OUR MARKET.

ROB:  OVER 5 MILLION NEW ACRES WERE PLANTED IN THE 1920’S BY FARMERS HOPING TO SURVIVE THE DOWNTURN; BUT, IT WASN’T TO BE.  WHEN THE STOCK MARKET CRASHED IN 1929, AMERICA’S HEARTLAND WAS ALREADY IN TROUBLE.  A DROUGHT WAS JUST BEGINNING; BANKS BEGAN TO CLOSE; AND EQUIPMENT LAY IDLE IN THE FIELD; AND THEN THE WINDS BEGAN TO BLOW.

MOVIE EXCERPT:  A COUNTRY WITHOUT RIVERS, WITHOUT STREAMS, WITH A LITTLE RAIN.

ROB:  LEFT LITTLE COVER FOR TILLED GROUND, AND DUST STORMS BEGAN TO BLOW.  BY THE END OF 1931, A SURVEY SHOWED OF THE 16 MILLION ACRES OF LAND CULTIVATED IN OKLAHOMA, 13 MILLION WAS SEVERELY ERODED.  AND OUR STATE WAS TO FACE A TEST LIKE NO OTHER.

WELL WHILE THE CALAMITOUS DUST STORMS DID WREAK HAVOC, THE GREAT MIGRATION DEPICTED IN THE GRAPES OF WRATH WAS JUST AS MUCH ABOUT THE ECONOMY AS IT WAS THE ENVIRONMENT.  IN TRUTH, LESS THAN 7% OF THE MIGRANTS INTO CALIFORNIA CAME FROM THE WIND-RAVAGED DUST BOWL AREA.  THE MAJORITY WERE REFUGEES OF A CHANGING ECONOMY.  A RECESSION IN FARM COUNTRY HAD FARMERS BORROWING ON THE EASY CREDIT OF THE 1920’S; THEN IN THE 1930’S, LANDOWNERS BEGAN PHASING OUT TENANT FARMING IN FAVOR OF SEASONAL WAGE LABOR.  AND WITH UNEMPLOYMENT HOVERING AROUND 30%, THERE WERE SIMPLY JUST NO JOBS TO BE HAD.  SUCH AN UNFORGIVING ECONOMY HAD LITTLE ROOM FOR THE DOWNTRODDEN, AND WE SLIPPED INTO ONE OF THE BLEAKEST MOMENTS IN OUR NATION’S HISTORY.  BUT TIMES, THEY DID GET BETTER.  FEDERAL PROGRAMS PUT PEOPLE TO WORK AND NEW ENVIRONMENTAL PRACTICES WERE IMPLEMENTED TO KEEP THE LAND IN PLACE.  BUT, IT TOOK ANOTHER WORLD WAR TO REALLY BREAK THE GRIP OF THE GREAT DEPRESSION, AS FARM LABORERS LEFT THEIR FIELDS FOR THE FACTORY.