Home > PublicationsEncyclopedia >  Ameringer, Oscar

AMERINGER, OSCAR (1870–1943).

Oscar Ameringer, "the Mark Twain of American Socialism," was born in Achstetten, in Germany, August 4, 1870. He came to Oklahoma in 1907 and helped organize one of the largest socialist movements in American history. Ameringer synthesized Jeffersonian democratic principles, the frontier individualism of the Homestead Act, and Marxism in order to formulate "Industrial Democracy," or "Industry of the People, by the People, and for the People." His friends and allies included moderate socialists such as Milwaukee's Victor Berger and more radical socialists such as the Socialist Party's presidential candidate, Eugene V. Debs. Ameringer advocated a tolerant, nonsectarian form of Marxism.

Ameringer was a staunch supporter of the rights of the disadvantaged. In 1909 he helped found the Oklahoma Renters' Union to promote the rights of sharecroppers, and twenty-five years later his writings inspired the creation of the Southern Tenant Farmers' Union. In 1910 he led the fight against the "grandfather clause" that disenfranchised African American voters. He vocally opposed World War I, and in 1917 he and his wife, Freda, established the Oklahoma Daily Leader, which promoted peaceful opposition to the war.

Ameringer also dabbled in local politics. In 1911 he received 23 percent of the vote in a three-way race for mayor of Oklahoma City, and in 1918, despite censorship and a federal indictment, he ran a strong race for U.S. Congress in Wisconsin. After one of the most intense campaigns of political repression in United States history, the Oklahoma Socialist Party was disbanded, and Ameringer helped organize the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League, a progressive coalition similar to the South Dakota Nonpartisan League. The coalition helped elect "Our Jack" Walton as an anti–Ku Klux Klan governor. When betrayed by Walton, Ameringer quipped, "Politics is the art by which politicians obtain campaign contributions from the rich and votes from the poor on the pretext of protecting each from the other."

Ameringer was a prolific writer. In 1931 he helped found, and edited, the American Guardian, which became an internationally respected socialist newspaper. He also edited the Illinois Miner and authored hilarious satire, including a column titled "Adam Coaldigger," a book titled The Life and Deeds of Uncle Sam, which sold more than half a million copies, and "Dumdum Bullets," the poem that prompted his indictment. In 1940 his autobiography, If You Don't Weaken, was published with a forward by Carl Sandburg. The national press lauded the book, comparing it to The Education of Henry Adams and The Autobiography of Lincoln Steffens. Despite his despair at the destruction of the Socialist Party and the outbreak of World War II, Ameringer's humor triumphed. One day when his nemesis, Edward K. Gaylord, publisher of the Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), was out of the office, Ameringer visited the newspaper and regaled its staff with funny stories. Oscar Ameringer died November 5, 1943, in Oklahoma City. A conservative editor for the Oklahoman, a man whom Ameringer had comforted during a personal tragedy, titled his obituary "He Hated No Man."

John Thompson

See also: FREDA AMERINGER, FARMER-LABOR RECONSTRUCTION LEAGUE, GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS, LABOR–ORGANIZED, OKLAHOMA FARMERS' UNION, OKLAHOMA RENTERS' UNION, PRINTING AND PUBLISHING INDUSTRY, SOCIALIST PARTY

Bibliography

Oscar Ameringer, If You Don't Weaken: The Autobiography of Oscar Ameringer (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983).

Oscar Ameringer, Life and Deeds of Uncle Sam (Chicago, Ill.: Charles H. Kerr, 1985). James R. Green, Grass-Roots Socialism: Radical Movements in the Southwest, 1895–1943 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978).

Oklahoma City Advertiser, 12 November 1943.

John Thompson "She Never Weakened: The Heroism of Freda Ameringer," in An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before: Alternative Views of Oklahoma History, ed. Davis Joyce (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1994).

Copyright and Terms of Use

No part of this site may be construed as in the public domain.

Copyright to all articles and other content in the online and print Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History is held by the Oklahoma Historical Society. This includes individual articles (copyright to OHS by author assignment) and corporately (as a complete body of work), including web design, graphics, searching functions, and listing/browsing methods. Copyright to all of these materials is protected under United States and International law.

Users agree not to download, copy, modify, sell, lease, rent, reprint, or otherwise distribute these materials, or to link to these materials on another web site, without authorization of the Oklahoma Historical Society. Individual users must determine if their use of the Materials falls under United States copyright law's "Fair Use" guidelines and does not infringe on the proprietary rights of the Oklahoma Historical Society as the legal copyright holder of The Encyclopedia and part or in whole.

Photo credits: All photographs presented in the published and online versions of The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture are the property of the Oklahoma Historical Society and are held in the agency's Research Division Photograph Archives (unless otherwise stated).


Citation

The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
John Thompson, "Ameringer, Oscar," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org (accessed December 13, 2017).

About the Encyclopedia | Terms of Use | Using the Encyclopedia