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Collection Voices from the Dust Bowl: the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection, 1940 to 1941

Related Resources

Research Compiled | Correspondence | Publications | Other Recordings | Selected Bibliography

Research Compiled During the Todd and Sonkin Collecting Expedition

Fieldnotes written by Robert Sonkin during the expedition through the California migrant labor camps in July and August, 1940. Notes include descriptions of the recording events, performer information, and performance context. These notes also describe the migrant camps in great detail.

Song Text Transcriptions
Transcriptions for 120 songs collected by Todd and Sonkin. Notations include names of people from whom the texts were collected and date and location of recording. There are also occasional handwritten notes identifying Archive of American Folk Song (AFS) numbers, noting sound quality of corresponding recording, or correcting transcriptions.

Folksong Questionnaire
Questionnaire prepared by the Joint Committee on Folk Arts, of the Works Project Administration. Document is dated March 15, 1939.

1940 Catalogue of Recordings
Log of field recordings made in July and August, 1940. The log lists approximately 240 recordings of songs, stories, poems, conversations, camp council meetings, and court proceedings. It also provides performers'/informants' names, instrumentation, recording date and location, genre, and AFS number.

1941 Catalogue of Recordings
Log of field recordings made in August and September, 1941. The log lists approximately 180 recordings of songs, stories, poems, conversations, and camp council meetings. It also provides performers'/informants' names, instrumentation, recording date and location, and genre.

Dust Jackets
Four examples of dust jackets that housed the recorded discs and the handwritten notes that were recorded upon them.

Notes from an Interview with Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin
Notes from an interview with Charles L.Todd conducted by Margaret and Gerald E. Parsons for the Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture on August 16, 1985. Todd provided interesting information on the events leading up to his participation in the migrant camp recording project and his relationship with other folklorists, musicians, writers, and photographers who documented the life of the Dust Bowl migrants.


The correspondence in this online collection comprises the personal and administrative communication of Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin relating to the Todd/Sonkin Migrant Workers Collection. The first group of letters, dated January 23, 1940, to November 13, 1941, contains correspondence between Todd and Sonkin and various Library of Congress officials, written prior to and during the California field project. This portion of the correspondence documents Todd's negotiations with the Archive of American Folk Song (now the Archive of Folk Culture, American Folklife Center) for support, administrative details of the project, instructions for field documentation, discussion of technical issues, notes on a proposed book by Charles L. Todd, and a discussion of the script for a radio program based on the collection.

The second group of letters, dated March 27, 1942, to September 14, 1944, contains correspondence written during World War II. This correspondence chronicles a number of subjects including the activities of Todd, Sonkin, and Alan Lomax during the war, development of programming based on the fieldwork, and potential documentation projects in army camps.

The third and final group of letters, dated August 23, 1985, to March 22, 1989, contains correspondence between Charles L. Todd and Gerald E. Parsons of the American Folklife Center. These letters discuss the collecting process, the collection itself, and Todd's donation of additional related materials.

Publications and Ephemera from the Collection


A forty-five page scrapbook compiled by Charles Todd contains newspaper clippings documenting the following: labor issues of the day; migration, assimilation, and repatriation of the Dust Bowl refugees; the Todd/Sonkin recording expedition; migratory camps; rural mountain life in North Carolina; Eleanor Roosevelt; Mother Sanders; John Steinbeck and The Grapes of Wrath; and Leadbelly. The scrapbook also contains a telegram and a flyer recruiting cotton pickers for work in Arizona.


The clippings in this online collection all pertain to the collecting project as it was being carried out by Charles Todd and Robert Sonkin.


The newsletters included in this collection were all produced in the migrant camps by and for the campers. The grassroots journalism provides revealing accounts of community life from the perspective of the farm workers. The newsletters include essays, stories, jokes, poems, drawings, announcements, gossip, recipes, and articles on camp activities such as religious, social, and recreational events, and council meetings. There is also commentary on camp rules and social conduct, discussion of educational and health issues, and advertisements for camp events, camp stores, and local businesses. Included in this online collection are two issues of "Covered Wagon News," a weekly newsletter produced at the Shafter Farm Worker Community, Shafter, California; one issue of "VOTAW: Voice of the Agricultural Worker," a weekly newsletter produced by the campers of the Yuba City Migratory Labor Camp in Sutter County, California; and seven issues of "The Hub", a weekly newsletter cited as having been produced at the Shafter Farm Worker Community, Shafter, California, in 1940, and at the Tulare Farm Workers Community in Visalia or Linnel, California, in 1942. One interesting feature to note is Charles Todd's column, which appears in some of the 1942 issues of the "The Hub." During this period, Todd was working as associate manager of the camp and his columns are written from this perspective.

Radio Script

This eight-page script for the radio program "The Song of the Okies" is built around a narrative written by Robert Sonkin that describes his impressions of the migrant performers and the circumstances in which they were recorded.

LC Publications

These publications include one issue of the LC Information Bulletin which outlines "the Homegrown Music Hour," a weekly radio program which featured the collections of the American Folklife Center including some recordings form the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection. There are liner notes which accompanied two AFS (Archive of Folk Song) long playing records that contain field recordings made by Todd and Sonkin. These albums are "Anglo-American Shanties, Lyric Songs, dance Tunes and Spirituals" (L2) and "Child Ballads Traditional in the United States" (L57).

  • LC Information Bulletin - The Homegrown Music Hour.
  • Liner notes - "Anglo-American Shanties, Lyric Songs, dance Tunes and Spirituals" (L2) and "Child Ballads Traditional in the United States" (L57).

Other Recordings in this Collection

The following song titles from the Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection have not been placed on the Internet at this time because the underlying musical lyrics or works may be protected by copyright.

  • Call That Religion?
  • Can the Circle be Unbroken
  • Convict and The Rose, The
  • Cool Water
  • Death of Dewey Lee, The
  • Fate of Edward Heckman, The
  • Foggy Mountain Top
  • Forgive Me Lord and Try Me One More Time
  • Freight Train Blues
  • Gonna' Quit Drinking When I Die
  • Great Speckled Bird, The
  • Henry Ford
  • Hobo Bill's Last Ride
  • House Carpenter, The
  • I Wonder if You Feel the Way I Do
  • I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes
  • Little Bitty Blues
  • Lover's Farewell
  • Money Ain't No Use Anyway
  • Moonlight and Skies
  • Mule Skinner's Blues
  • No Depression in Heaven
  • Oh Soldier
  • Oh Soldier, Won't You Marry Me Now
  • Pistol Pete
  • Ridin' Down the Canyon
  • Rock All of Our Babies to Sleep
  • San Antonio Rose
  • Storms Are On The Ocean, The
  • There's An Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse
  • They Drew My Number
  • When the Bloom is on the Sage
  • Where We'll Never Grow Old
  • Wild and Wooly West, The
  • Wild Cat Woman and Tom Cat Man
  • You Are My Sunshine

Selected Bibliography

Andryszewski, Tricia. The Dust Bowl: Disaster on the Plains. Brookfield, CT: The Millbrook Press, 1993.

Baldwin, Sidney. Poverty and Politics: The Rise and Decline of the Farm Security Administration. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1968.

Bonnifield, Paul. The Dust Bowl: Men, Dirt, and Depression.Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1979.

Farris, John. The Dust Bowl. San Diego: Lucent Books, Inc., 1989.

Fleischhauer, Carl and Beverly W. Brannan, eds. Documenting America, 1935-1943. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Gregory, James N. American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California.Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Hondagneu-Sotelo, Pierrette. Gendered Transitions: Mexican Experiences of Immigration. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

Hurt, R. Douglas. The Dust Bowl: An Agricultural and Social History.Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1981.

Kirstein, Peter N. Anglo over Bracero: A History of the Mexican Worker in the United States from Roosevelt to Nixon.San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1977.

McWilliams, Carey. Ill Fares the Land: Migrants and Migratory Labor in the United States.New York: Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1941.

Riney-Kehrberg, Pamela. Rooted in Dust: Surviving Drought and Depression in Southwestern Kansas.Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1994.

Shindo, Charles J. Dust Bowl Migrants in the American Imagination.
Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1997.

Stanley, Jerry. Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1992