|Regions with significant populations|
|American English: Oklahoma dialect, Southern American English, Midland American English|
|Southern Baptist, Pentecostal, Lutheran|
|Related ethnic groups|
An Okie is a resident, native, or cultural descendant of Oklahoma. It is derived from the name of the state, similar to Texan or Tex for someone from Texas, or Arkie or Arkansawyer for a native of Arkansas.
The history of Oklahoma refers to the history of the state of Oklahoma and the land that the state now occupies. Areas of Oklahoma east of its panhandle were acquired in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, while the Panhandle was not acquired until the U.S. land acquisitions following the Mexican–American War.
Texas is the second largest state in the United States by both area and population. Geographically located in the South Central region of the country, Texas shares borders with the U.S. states of Louisiana to the east, Arkansas to the northeast, Oklahoma to the north, New Mexico to the west, and the Mexican states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Nuevo León, and Tamaulipas to the southwest, while the Gulf of Mexico is to the southeast.
Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.
In the 1920s in California, the term (often used in contempt) came to refer to very poor migrants from Oklahoma (and nearby states). The Dust Bowl and the "Okie" migration of the 1930s brought in over a million newly displaced people; many headed to the farm labor jobs advertised in California's Central Valley.
The history of California can be divided into: the Native American period; European exploration period from 1542 to 1769; the Spanish colonial period, 1769 to 1821; the Mexican period, 1821 to 1848; and United States statehood, from September 9, 1850 which continues to this present day.
A pejorative is a word or grammatical form expressing a negative connotation or a low opinion of someone or something, showing a lack of respect for someone or something. It is also used to express criticism, hostility, or disregard. Sometimes, a term is regarded as pejorative in some social or ethnic groups but not in others, or may be originally pejorative and eventually be adopted in a non-pejorative sense in some or all contexts.
The Dust Bowl was a period of severe dust storms that greatly damaged the ecology and agriculture of the American and Canadian prairies during the 1930s; severe drought and a failure to apply dryland farming methods to prevent the aeolian processes caused the phenomenon. The drought came in three waves, 1934, 1936, and 1939–1940, but some regions of the high plains experienced drought conditions for as many as eight years. With insufficient understanding of the ecology of the plains, farmers had conducted extensive deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains during the previous decade; this had displaced the native, deep-rooted grasses that normally trapped soil and moisture even during periods of drought and high winds. The rapid mechanization of farm equipment, especially small gasoline tractors, and widespread use of the combine harvester contributed to farmers' decisions to convert arid grassland to cultivated cropland.
Dunbar-Ortiz (1998) argues that "Okie" denotes much more than being from Oklahoma. By 1950, four million individuals, or one quarter of all persons born in Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, or Missouri, lived outside the region, primarily in the West. Prominent Okies in the 1920s included Woody Guthrie. Most prominent in the late 1960s and 1970s were country musician Merle Haggard and writer Gerald Haslam.
Woodrow Wilson Guthrie was an American singer-songwriter, one of the most significant figures in American folk music; his music, including songs, such as "This Land Is Your Land", has inspired several generations both politically and musically. He wrote hundreds of political, folk, and children's songs, along with ballads and improvised works. His album of songs about the Dust Bowl period, Dust Bowl Ballads, is included on Mojo magazine's list of 100 Records That Changed The World. Many of his recorded songs are archived in the Library of Congress. Songwriters such as Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Johnny Cash, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Hunter, Harry Chapin, John Mellencamp, Pete Seeger, Andy Irvine, Joe Strummer, Billy Bragg, Jerry Garcia, Jay Farrar, Bob Weir, Jeff Tweedy, Bob Childers, Sammy Walker, Tom Paxton, AJJ, Brian Fallon, and Sixto Rodríguez have acknowledged Guthrie as a major influence. He frequently performed with the slogan "This machine kills fascists" displayed on his guitar.
Merle Ronald Haggard was an American country singer, songwriter, guitarist, and fiddler.
Gerald William Haslam is an author who has focused on rural and small towns in California's Great Central Valley including its poor and working class people of all colors. A native of Oildale, California, Haslam has received numerous literary awards.
In the mid-1930s, during the Dust Bowl era, large numbers of farmers fleeing ecological disaster and the Great Depression migrated from the Great Plains and Southwest regions to California mostly along historic U.S. Route 66. Californians began calling all migrants by that name, even though many newcomers were not actually Oklahomans. The migrants included people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico, but were all referred to as "Okies" and "Arkies."More of the migrants were from Oklahoma than any other state, and a total of 15% of the Oklahoma population left for California.
The Great Depression began in August 1929, when the United States economy first went into an economic recession. Everyone in the Great Depression struggled financially due to the collapse of the banking system. Although the country spent two months with declining GDP, it was not until the Wall Street Crash in October 1929 that the effects of a declining economy were felt, and a major worldwide economic downturn ensued. The stock market crash marked the beginning of a decade of high unemployment, poverty, low profits, deflation, plunging farm incomes, and lost opportunities for economic growth as well as for personal advancement. Altogether, there was a general loss of confidence in the economic future.
The Great Plains is the broad expanse of flat land, much of it covered in prairie, steppe, and grassland, that lies west of the Mississippi River tallgrass prairie in the United States and east of the Rocky Mountains in the U.S. and Canada. It embraces:
U.S. Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway, the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways in the U.S. Highway System. US 66 was established on November 11, 1926, with road signs erected the following year. The highway, which became one of the most famous roads in the United States, originally ran from Chicago, Illinois, through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona before ending in Santa Monica in Los Angeles County, California, covering a total of 2,448 miles (3,940 km). It was recognized in popular culture by both the hit song "(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66" and the Route 66 television show in the 1960s. In John Steinbeck's classic American novel, The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the road, "Highway 66", was turned into a powerful symbol of escape and loss.
Ben Reddick, a free-lance journalist and later publisher of the Paso Robles Daily Press, is credited with first using the term Oakie, in the mid-1930s, to identify migrant farm workers. He noticed the "OK" abbreviation (for Oklahoma) on many of the migrants' license plates and referred to them in his article as "Oakies." The first known usage was an unpublished private postcard from 1907.
Once the Okie families migrated from Oklahoma to California, they often were forced to work on large farms to support their families. Because of the minimal pay, these families were often forced to live on the outskirts of these farms in shanty houses they built themselves. These homes were normally set up in groups called Squatter Camps or Shanty Towns, which were often located near the irrigation ditches which ran along the outskirts of these farms. Indoor plumbing was inaccessible to these migrant workers, and so they were forced to resort to using outhouses. Unfortunately, because of the minimal space allotted to the migrant workers, their outhouses were normally located near the irrigation ditches, and some waste would inevitably runoff into the water. These irrigation ditches provided the Okie families with a water supply.Due to this lack of sanitation in these camps, disease ran rampant among the migrant workers and their families. Also contributing to disease was the fact that these Shanty Town homes that the Okie migrant workers lived in had no running water, and because of their minimal pay medical attention was out of the question. However, what native Californians failed to realize at the time was that these Okie migrant farm workers did not always live in the conditions that the Dust Bowl left them in. In fact, often these families had once owned their own farms and had been able to support themselves. This had often placed these migrant workers in a relatively comfortable middle-class situation for these families prior to the devastating drought (the Dust Bowl) in Oklahoma.
Historian James Gregory has explored the long-term impact of the Okies on California society. He notes that in The Grapes of Wrath, novelist John Steinbeck saw the migrants becoming active union and New Deal agitators demanding higher wages and better housing conditions. Steinbeck did not foresee that most Okies would move into well-paid jobs in war industries in the 1940s. The children and grandchildren of Okies seldom returned to Oklahoma or farming, and are now concentrated in California's cities and suburbs. Long-term cultural impacts include a commitment to evangelical Protestantism, a love of country music, political conservatism, and strong support for traditional moral and cultural values.
It has been said that some Oklahomans who stayed and lived through the Dust Bowl see the Okie migrants as quitters who fled Oklahoma. Most Oklahoma natives are as proud of their Okies who made good in California as are the Okies themselves – and of the Arkies, West Texans, and others who were cast in with them.
In the later half of the 20th century, there became increasing evidence that any pejorative meaning of the term Okie was changing; former and present Okies began to apply the label as a badge of honor and symbol of the Okie survivor attitude.
In one example, Republican Oklahoma Governor Dewey F. Bartlett launched a campaign in the 1960s to popularize Okie as a positive term for Oklahomans;however, the Democrats used the campaign, and the fact that Bartlett was born in Ohio, as a political tool against him, and further degraded the term for some time.
In 1968, Governor Bartlett made Reddick, the originator of the California usage, an honorary Okie. And in the early 1970s, Merle Haggard's country song Okie from Muskogee was a hit on national airwaves.
Also during the 1970s, the term Okie became familiar to most Californians as a prototype of a subcultural group, just like the resurgence of Southern American regionalism and renewal of ethnic American (Irish American, Italian American or Polish American) identities in the Northeast and Midwest states at the time.
In the early 1990s the California Department of Transportation refused to allow the name of the "Okie Girl" restaurant to appear on a roadside sign on Interstate 5, arguing that the restaurant's name insulted Oklahomans; only after protracted controversy (and a letter from the Governor of Oklahoma) did the agency relent.
Since the 1990s, the children and grandchildren of Okies in California changed the meaning of Okie to a self-title of pride in obtaining success, as well to challenge what they felt was snobbery or "the last group to make fun of" in the state's urban area cultures.
While some Oklahomans refer to themselves as Okies without prejudice, and it is often used jocularly; in a manner similar to the use of Hoosier by Indianans, Yankee by Northeasterners, or "Cracker" by native Floridians, none of whom consider these terms particularly insulting when applied to themselves. Others still find the term highly offensive.
Muskogee Mayor John Tyler Hammons used the phrase "I'm proud to be an Okie from Muskogee" as the successful theme of his 2008 mayoral campaign. He was 19 years old at the time.
John Steinbeck's 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize for its controversial characterizationof the Okie lifestyle and journey to California.
In James Blish's Cities in Flight science fiction series, the term "Okie" was applied in a similar context to entire cities that, thanks to an anti-gravity device, take flight to the stars in order to escape an economic collapse on Earth. Working as a migrant labor force, these cities act as cultural pollinators, spreading technology and knowledge throughout the expanding human civilization. The later novels focus on the travels of New York City as one such Okie city, though there are many others.
In On the Road, the road novel by Jack Kerouac – written between 1948 and 1949, although not published until 1957 – the term appears to refer to some of the people the main character, a New York author, meets in one of his trips around the United States.
In the novel Paint it Black by Janet Fitch, the protagonist (an LA punk-rocker in the early 1980s) thinks of herself and her family as "Okies."
Frank Bergon's 2011 novel, Jesse's Ghost, draws attention to today's sons and daughters of the California Okies portrayed in Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath .
In Hunter S. Thompson's semi-autobiographical novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , Thompson describes an incident in the beginning of the novel where he and Oscar Zeta Acosta (under the pseudonyms of Raoul Duke and Dr. Gonzo respectively) pick up a hitchhiker on the way to Las Vegas, whom Thompson describes as a "poor Okie kid".
John Ernst Steinbeck Jr. was an American author. He won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Literature "for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception." He has been called "a giant of American letters," and many of his works are considered classics of Western literature.
The Grapes of Wrath is an American realist novel written by John Steinbeck and published in 1939. The book won the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and it was cited prominently when Steinbeck was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1962.
Weedpatch is an unincorporated community and census-designated place (CDP) in Kern County, California, United States. Weedpatch is 10 miles (16 km) south-southeast of Bakersfield. It is considered to be one of the poorest areas in Kern County. As of the 2010 census it had a population of 2,658.
The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was a New Deal agency created in 1937 to combat rural poverty during the Great Depression in the United States. It succeeded the Resettlement Administration (1935–1937).
A pea-picker is a derogatory reference to poor, migrant workers during the Great Depression. These people were unskilled, poorly educated workers, employable only in menial jobs, such as harvesting crops and, as such, received poor wages for working long hours under dreadful conditions. Some of these people were photographed by Dorothea Lange.
The Grapes of Wrath is a 1940 American drama film directed by John Ford. It was based on John Steinbeck's 1939 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel of the same name. The screenplay was written by Nunnally Johnson and the executive producer was Darryl F. Zanuck.
Dust Bowl Ballads is an album by Woody Guthrie, recorded for Victor Records in Camden, New Jersey in 1940. It was Guthrie's first commercial recording and the most successful album he made. It is considered to be the first or one of the very first concept albums.
Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel was a long-time resident of California's Central Valley. Wilma was one of thousands who emigrated from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl years of the mid-1930s. Named the Tulare poet laureate in the 1970s, McDaniel was dubbed "The Okie Poet" because of her writings about Oklahoma throughout her lifetime.
The Grapes of Wrath is an opera in three acts composed by Ricky Ian Gordon to a libretto by Michael Korie based on John Steinbeck’s 1939 novel of the same title. It premiered on February 10, 2007 at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in Saint Paul, Minnesota in a production by Minnesota Opera. The work has been revised in subsequent years and has also been performed as a two-act concert version.
"Do Re Mi" is a folksong by American songwriter Woody Guthrie. The song deals with the experiences and reception of Dust Bowl migrants when they arrive in California. It is known for having two guitar parts, both recorded by Guthrie.
Sanora Babb was an American novelist, poet, and literary editor. She was the wife of Chinese American cinematographer James Wong Howe.
Charles Jogi Shindo is a Professor of United States history at Louisiana State University.
Paul "Okie Paul" Westmoreland was a musician, songwriter, and disc jockey in Sacramento, California.
Weedpatch Camp was built by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) south of Bakersfield, California in 1936 to house migrant workers during the Great Depression. Several historic buildings at the camp were placed on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) on January 22, 1996.
The California Dream is the psychological motivation to gain fast wealth or fame in a new land. As a result of the California Gold Rush after 1849, California's name became indelibly connected with the Gold Rush, and fast success in a new world became known as the "California Dream". California was perceived as a place of new beginnings, where great wealth could reward hard work and good luck. The notion inspired the idea of an American Dream. California was seen as a lucky place, a land of opportunity and good fortune. It was a powerful belief, underlying many of the accomplishments of the state, and equally potent when threatened.
The Harvest Gypsies is a series of articles by John Steinbeck written on commission for The San Francisco News focusing on the lives and times of migrant workers in California's Central Valley. Published daily from October 5–12, 1936, Steinbeck delves into the hardships and triumphs of American migrant workers during the Great Depression, tracing their paths and stories from crop to crop as they eked out a stark existence.
"Vigilante Man" is a song by Woody Guthrie, recorded and released in 1940 as one of his Dust Bowl Ballads.
The migrants included people from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, Colorado and New Mexico, but were all referred to as "Okies" and "Arkies."