Before they migrated out of their home states, many Okie and Arkie sharecropping, and tenant farmers organized to try to negotiate for more humane economic deals with plantation owners. In Gregory argue that it was “’grit’ and a preoccupation with toughness that became one of the cornerstones of the Okie subculture,” and that “whiners” and those who were unhappy with government relief efforts should keep complaints to themselves.[1] This definition of Okies excludes the thousands of whites as well as blacks who organized in Oklahoma and California for farm workers’ rights in groups like the Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU) and the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA). In their home states, white and black Okies joined socialist leaning and interracial organizations like the STFU and UCAPAWA. Organized in 1934 in Tyronza, Arkansas, with only seventeen farmers, both black and white, the STFU quickly grew to an organization that could claim 25,000 members across six states and that included blacks, whites, Indians and Mexicans. Though ultimately the sharecropping system was a dying one, members of the STFU struggled to improve their lives, while facing evictions, jail time, and brutal violence at the hands of plantation owners. Migrant workers sought to transplant the organizations to California. In the Californian migrant camps, bosses put intense pressure on white, Mexican, Black, and Filipino workers not to organize unions, and resorted to threats and violence on several occasions.[2]

These workers were organizing together, without allowing racial barriers to impede them. These photographs were taken at Worker’s Alliance meetings and Southern Tenant Farmers Union (STFU) in Muskogee, OK, and the United Cannery, Agricultural, Packing and Allied Workers of America (UCAPAWA) in Bristow OK, as well as members of the Agricultural Workers Union meeting in Tabor OK. Here Lee seems to be taking the time to show the active, fighting spirit of farmers affected by the Depression and the environmental issues of the day. These people are not passive victims of their fate, they are agents of change. 
[1] Gregory, American Exodus, many migrant camps had weekly newsletters prepared and published by the migrants themselves, Gregory quotes Thornton’s Camp Paper (Fall 1940), Migratory Clipper(Indio) (March 9, 1940); “The Optimist” In Voice of the Migrants (Marysville) (December 15, 1940). 144-145. 
[2] “PREDICTS NEW EXODUS FROM SOUTHLAND.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Dec 30, 1939. Sheriff John A. Miller of Contra Costa County admitted to the press that he was part of an effort to blacklist and intimidate workers who tried to organize in the agricultural sector of California. A local merchant admitted to selling tear gas to a San Joaquin county agent to use against Black, Latino and Filipino strikers. “To Investigate Ku Kluxers on Coast.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Nov 25, 1939. KKK anti-Union intimidation in Seattle, Washington.

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