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American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California Paperback – September 12, 1991

16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195071368 ISBN-10: 0195071360 Edition: Reprint

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

A thorough study of the migration of Oklahomans, Arkansans, Texans, and Missourians to California in the years of the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression. Gregory dispels the popular Okie image built from The Grapes of Wrath , placing this unique exodus in economic perspective. He is particularly successful in tracing Okie impact on the San Joaquin Valley, where the Okie twang and culture have taken root to become the Californian. Gregory's prose is conversational, although his narrative lacks the compelling anecdotes that enrich history for the lay reader. This is, nevertheless, an important and necessary work on this period. Recommended.
- Timothy L. Zindel, Hastings Coll. of the Law, San Francisco
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"An important and readable book about one of the significant episodes of the Great Depression. The story is told from multiple points of view and illustrated with a number of striking pictures--some of them not often seen. This book would be useful in a number of different kinds of courses."--William H. Goetzmann, The Univ. of Texas

"...a profoundly impressive book....American Exodus is a major contribution to our understanding of regional, cultural, and political history in the United States. It deserves the widest possible readership."--Bill C. Malone, The Journal of Southern History _

"[A] stunning book....The impressive range of source material, from government documents to graffiti to country music to cliometrics is fashioned and reshaped to form a vivid yet subtle portrait of generation of Americans on the move....A masterpiece of reflection, imagination and research, a book that advances our historical understanding, with a narrative skillfully and vividly told. In sum, a testimony to what the historical profession and history are presumed to be about."--OAH Ray Allen Billington Prize Committee

"We have had many other essays and books on the Okie migrants who entered California in the 1930s, but no one has done so comprehensive and masterful a job of telling their history as James Gregory. He has uncovered a vast literature on these people, including their own newspapers and poetry, and he has derived from it a convincing portrait of both their strengths and weaknesses. Best of all, he succeeds in giving them their due. They are, as he reveals, a major 20th-century American subculture, with roots in the Old Southwest and a life that has endured beyond the thirties down to our own time. The Okies must be reckoned with, and this book must be read to understand [them]."--Donald E. Worster, University of Kansas

"American Exodus takes us beyond the Dorothea Lange photographs and the Hollywood stereotypes to the heart of that complex story of a plain folk culture transplanted across a continent in the midst of the great depression. In John Steinbeck, the Okie's found their novelist; in Jim Gregory they have found their historian."--Dan T. Carter, Emory University

"Clearly the best book that has been written about the Okies."--Roger Daniels, University of Cincinnati

"[A] remarkable book....Gregory has a fine ear for music and a fine eye for quotation, and combines these with vigorous social analysis. American Exodus is a fine achievement."--Otis L. Graham, Jr., University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"It will fit in well with my 20th-century California class."--Kathy Olmsted, University of California, Davis

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (September 12, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195071360
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195071368
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 0.7 x 5.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #118,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Michael Carley on February 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book provides an excellent overview of the history of the dust bowl Okies and the culture they (we) have created in central California. Gregory explores the religion, music, and politics well in clear language. The book is short enough to be enjoyable and while goes into some depth on a few issues, it is not so filled with unimportant details as to be muddled. Gregory sprinkles the text with brief excerpts of the many interviews he conducted with the Okies.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 22, 2000
Format: Paperback
James Gregory has put together a outstanding history of the migration and culture of the dust bowl migrants who settled in California. I have probably read Grapes of Wrath four or five times since first reading it in high school, but after reading Gregory's description of the way these poor south-westerners struggled with poverty and at the same time maintained family unity and cultural pride, Steinbeck's book takes on a whole new meaning. Gregory goes step by step to show what motivated many to move, and then what motivated them to stay even though they suffered great privations and predjudice. I especially enjoyed learning about the influences of country music not just upon the migrants, but on the entire nation. A must read to make Grapes more clear!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Mac Pro on January 6, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Helps me understand much of my family history. Most of my and my husband's ancestors stayed in Oklahoma/Texas/Colorado despite the Dust Bowl and the Depression. But some left for "greener pastures" and I've heard the stories of how they were treated. I've seen letters from my Grandpa's brother warning him not to bring his own family to California. The folks were confused and at least twice wrote, "We just want to work." Fortunately for my family they had some money and could rent a place (for three families) and one of my great uncles eventually got a job in the shipyards. But my Grandpa told me of hearing it was so hard for them and how the children were treated in school. The war "saved" them, the boys went off into the military and there were plenty of jobs but one of my mom's cousins came back for a visit 20 or 30 years ago and said she never got over being called an "okie" although she was a college graduate and a school administrator. They stuck close to their church and each other and worked hard to educate their kids. Interestingly, many of the descendants of those who left eventually "came back home", either to retire or to find jobs here. But for the most part I never heard any of them criticize the people of California, most just shrugged and said it could have happened to anybody and they thought the citizens were just scared. This book is extremely well researched and I didn't find much editorializing. The first half was very fascinating for me personally but the second half was just a tad boring with all the facts, etc., important but just not my taste.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sioux City Sue on August 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
I'll admit that I didn't know a lot about the Dust Bowl before reading the historical romance novel, The Happy Immortals, that was set back then and also in 1949. Since falling in love with that book, I've become a voracious reader of anything I can get my hands on relating to the Dust Bowl, the Panhandle, etc.

American Exodus is one of those powerful books that takes you back in time to those years when weather and the storms overshadowed everything throughout the Great Plains.

James Gregory has done a masterful job in not only painting a vivid, unforgettable portrayal of the "dusters," but also in showing the impact of the great exodus to California.

What happened during the 1930s is a very important part of our country's history, and the more we understand about the bittersweet blend of hope, despair, and courage that came from the experiences of those years--all is vital to discovering what led to the 1940s and beyond.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful By R. L. Huff on January 26, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Overall a good study of the last great westward folk migration in American history. I would add that many of their predecessors in the "classic" frontier period were just as broke and hungry as these migrants, but there was little mass media around to record them. An interesting, well-done slice of folk Americana.
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In the 1930s, the Dust Bowl made migrants of the people of Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Texas. In an attempt to seek stability in lives lost to lfailed farms, they ventured to California to form what is known as the "Oakie" subculture, one of many of the state that began as a diverse territory with many subcultures. This very interesting and provocative book kept me reading. Growing up in the California Central Valley, many friends grew up from families who trekked to this state to better themselves. The result: some families struggled and integrated, some did not.

Read it and read yet again about the discrimination against people with different accents, religions, political values, and the yearning to belong.
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James E. Gregory's book about the Dust Bowl migration and Okie Culture in California is worth reading about if you're studying California history as well as the migration period during the Great Depression.

If you read John Steinbeck's novel, "The Grapes of Wrath," you will find this book to help explain how thousands of families relocated West often to California. You will surprised to see how well-researched about the Okies culture and life during the tough times. As an American, you will learn about how prejudicial Californians were to the Okies during the Great Depression.

The Okies were seen as job stealers when there wasn't enough during the Great Depression. The Okies were also mistreated poorly especially the children. Nobody wanted to known as an Okie in California. Okies were seen as poor, uneducated, filthy, and inferior to Californians.

Each chapter in this book focuses on the Okies adapting to life in California and how they were treated and lived in certain areas. The chapter about religion is surprising and eye-opening to the reader. The Okies' vast contributions to the California economy and culture is important part but dark part of history.

The Okies were definitely faced with degrees of prejudice and felt unwanted by the Californians especially during the Great Depression. But as you read, the Okies who went West to California were a tough bunch of families and individuals who wanted to better themselves. They were willing to work hard for a living and felt the sting of being treated like second class citizens among the Natives.

Anyway, the book also examines Okie culture like music and cowboys such as Merle Haggard, Woody Guthrie, Buck Owens, Tex Ritter, and others who inspired the country music industry in the West Coast. The Okie culture may live on California as well. Even though it's been decades since the Dust Bowl and the migration, it is still an important part of California's history.
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