Peasant Autonomy
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Story 90

Oklahoma, United States – around 1935 (1)

Driven away by the bulldozers

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Robert Izumi)

Oklahoma, United States.

Tom Joad is drowsy, sitting on the front bench of the old car, converted into a truck. The sun goes down and is shining on his face. Two days Tom and his whole family are driving on U.S. Route 66 to the West, to California.

It was difficult to say goodbye to their land in Oklahoma. The great-great-grandfather Joad got a plot of land from the government and fought the Indians to get them away. That is not okay, but that is how it went these days.
There have been good years, but that feels like a distant dream. It has been much too dry in the last years. There were dust-storms, and the harvests failed over and over again. Like everyone else, they have taken out a loan, and later again. In that way, the land ended up in the hands of the bank, and they instead had become tenants.

for bigger picture click on this photo

(Photo: Mlhradio)

On the road to California.

Two years ago, the bank decided on a new approach. All tenants had to leave. A few mega farms were coming. Big bulldozers with huge ploughs, harrows and sowing-machines behind them drew dead straight lines over the land for miles. You just got a last warning and then 'by accident' a bulldozer hit your farm, which collapsed in half.

They went to stay with Uncle John ten miles away. Two years all of them lived together in the small farm. But Uncle John had to leave too. They saved money by picking cotton and bought an old car from it. They sawed away the back, built high sides made of boards, and loaded all their stuff on it.

Now they are on their way to California, the country of sun, oranges, grapes and peaches. A few months ago Tom got a pamphlet in his hands with: “Wanted: 800 pickers – good earnings.” They are ready to turn their hand to anything they can get. They will save money, buy a piece of land, and build a small white house on it, like you find at calendar pictures. And plant orange trees …

In this manner, thousands, tens of thousands, many, many tens of thousands of poor peasants went to the West.


In The Grapes of Wrath (1939), the American author John Steinbeck describes the fate of peasants in the south-central US, who lost their land and went west. It is an impressive novel which sheds light upon many sides of peasant poverty. A tribute to the perseverance of peasant families.

Go to:
= part 2, the next page: Nightmare - California, United States – around 1935 (2), story 91.
= the Table of contents, story 90.