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Great Depression and World War II, 1929-1945
The Dust Bowl
Trampling Out the Vintage

In July 1939, Charles Todd, who had spent a summer in the Farm Security Administration migrant labor camps of California, wrote an article for the publication Common Sense titled "Trampling out the Vintage." In the article, Todd describes the difficulties early migrant workers faced in gaining acceptance in the communities in which the first camps were located. Excerpts of the article follow. Why do you think local residents had such a difficult time accepting the migrant workers to their communities? Why do you think there was so much talk of the migrants being Communists or the camps being part of a communist plot in the United States?

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Imperial Valley has changed its tune. Richest agricultural center in California and headquarters of the state's front-line reactionary defence, Imperial has taken one New Deal agency to its bosom. The Migratory Labor Camps, set up under the Farm Security Administration in 1937, have won a real victory over the stupidity and wrath that made the Valley a sink-hole of farm labor exploitation since the days of the first irrigating ditch.

It wasn't an easy victory. The camps were bitterly fought and hated from the beginning: the wonder is that a single tent survived. . . .

There are some eleven Migratory Labor Camps scattered through California, and their stories are pretty much the same. In the little town of Brawley, for example, over three hundred dust-bowl families were huddled together in a dry riverbed a few miles from town. . . . Despite the unbelievable misery in that riverbed, the good citizens of Imperial did nothing. A few half-humorously suggested that the "Okies" be lined up and shot: others sent half-hearted protests to the Health Department.

Then, one day in 1937, representatives of the Farm Security Administration walked into Brawley. Concluding an agreement for the purchase of a small plot of land at the edge of town, they drew up plans for tent platforms, an office building, a nursery and a medical unit, three sanitary units with showerbaths and toilets, a tool shed, a garage - in fact all that goes into the making of a rough but livable community. . . .

As plans for the government camp were being aired, the first to get upset was the editor of The Brawley News. The whole thing came straight out of Russia--no doubt about it! Next day an editorial informed the citizens of Brawley that the hammer and sickle would soon be hoisted at the very rim of the town. . . .

Next to cry havoc were the rural associations and more particularly, the proprietress of an adjacent "tourist camp." "Business ruined!" "Get up a petition!" . . . "Send telegrams! . . ."

"Hobo Brats"

One day, while men were still working on the tent platforms, a delegation of irate Parent-Teachers arrived at the camp. The question the ladies put was: "Are you going to make it possible for more of these hobo brats to go to school with our children?". . .

And what of the Associated Farmers? Mr. Hugh Osborne, Imperial County Supervisor and author of the famous phrase, "We know a better way!" speaks: "The whole proposition is Communist through and through! It stinks of Russia! Our women won't be safe on the streets. We never wanted this camp in here."


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