The Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and New Deal in Oklahoma
The New Deal Near You
Wewoka, Oklahoma, pool built by the WPA. Picture taken June 16, 1940 (21201.OGP.17, Works Progress Administration Collection, OHS).
Use the website https://livingnewdeal.org to search for New Deal projects by city and state. Search for a project in your town or in a city near your town.
Find out the following:
- What is it?
- Who built it?
- Where is it?
- How did people use it?
Go to your local library or use the internet. Find the Oklahoma Historical Society's archives catalog (okhistory.org/catalog) to research more about the site. Create a poster on your findings and report it to your class. Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Find out about the CCC camp or a particular person who worked on the project.
- Visit the site and take pictures.
- Does it look like people need to take better care of it? Is it falling apart or is it well preserved? If the site needs work, write a letter to the city mayor or local historic preservation committee about why the site is important to the community and should be preserved. Be sure to talk about the history of the New Deal, and the benefits it had in the community.
An art class being held at the Oklahoma City Civic Center. (Courtesy of the National Archives) (41)
Woody Crumbo and Allan Houser are two examples of artists from Oklahoma who worked for the WPA. Use the site http://www.newdealartregistry.org to research an artist from Oklahoma or a piece of artwork created in Oklahoma. Present your findings by creating your own art project or poster to report what you found.
Primary Source Photograph Activity
Choose one of the two photographs below. Use the picture and your imagination to write a short story about the people in the photograph. Be sure to write about what their life might be like and how they might feel about it. Here are some discussion questions to consider:
Did the Great Depression forever change American economics, or the way we think about money?
What is the role of the government in preventing (or solving) economic downturns?
Sam Gillispie's "Run-down farmstead," Roger Mills County, Oklahoma. Photo by E. W. Jenkins, USDA Soil Conservation Service, April 17, 1941. (10226, C. A. Tidwell Collection, OHS) (42)
Farm family living in temporary quarters in the windbreak of a gully, 25 miles northeast of Cheyenne, Oklahoma. Photo by E. W. Jenkins, USDA Soil Conservation Service, April 17, 1941. (10629, C. A. Tidwell Collection, OHS) (43)
Woody Guthrie Lyric Activity
Listen to Woody Guthrie's "Talkin' Dust Bowl Blues" or read the lyrics below. Think about the topics and issues discussed earlier and consider the following questions:
- What is the song about?
- How does Woody Guthrie represent migration and Okies?
- Who is he blaming for all of the poverty and starvation?
- What does he mean by "and the black ol' dust storm filled the sky?"
- How does this song make you feel?
Trying writing your own Dust Bowl ballad based on what you learned about the Great Depression and Oklahoma. Listen to the song here: https://youtu.be/xOpsGkC5-tE
Back in Nineteen Twenty-Seven,
I had a little farm and I called that heaven. Well, the prices up and the rain come down, And I hauled my crops all into town –
I got the money, bought clothes and groceries, Fed the kids, and raised a family.
Rain quit and the wind got high,
And the black ol' dust storm filled the sky. And I swapped my farm for a Ford machine, And I poured it full of this gas-I-line –
And I started, rockin' an' a-rollin',
Over the mountains, out towards the old Peach Bowl.
Way up yonder on a mountain road, I had a hot motor and a heavy load,
I's a-goin' pretty fast, there wasn't even stoppin', A-bouncin' up and down, like popcorn poppin' –
Had a breakdown, sort of a nervous bustdown of some kind, There was a feller there, a mechanic feller,
Said it was en-gine trouble.
Way up yonder on a mountain curve, It's way up yonder in the piney wood, An' I give that rollin' Ford a shove,
An' I's a-gonna coast as far as I could -- Commence coastin', pickin' up speed, Was a hairpin turn, I didn't make it.
Man alive, I'm a-tellin' you,
The fiddles and the guitars really flew. That Ford took off like a flying squirrel An' it flew halfway around the world – Scattered wives and childrens
All over the side of that mountain.
We got out to the West Coast broke, So dad-gum hungry I thought I'd croak, An' I bummed up a spud or two,
An' my wife fixed up a tater stew – We poured the kids full of it, Mighty thin stew, though,
You could read a magazine right through it. Always have figured
That if it'd been just a little bit thinner, Some of these here politicians
Coulda seen through it.