The conditions that gave rise to the term Okie for white migrants who moved out of the areas effected by the Dustbowl and the Great Depression, headed for new opportunities around the country, were the same as those faced by black migrants. African Americans lost businesses, farms, and jobs just as their white neighbors did; they struggled to provide the necessities of life for their families, just as whites did; and they looked to the same solutions that whites utilized to change their circumstances. African Americans faced further pressure as whites sought to disenfranchise black voters, undermine black schools, and hamper relief efforts aimed at black workers and families. Despite these parallels, the term “Okie,” a term that has become a term of pride or endearment for many in the United States, has become embedded in American collective memory as exclusively white. Continuing to racialize the term Okie prevents African Americans from being able to wear this badge of folk honor. Like so many movements and events in American history, blacks have traveled, worked, and struggled alongside whites to build this nation, and like so many of these movements their collective contribution has been overlooked. African Americans had an even steeper hill to climb out of the disastrous economic downturn of the great Depression because Jim Crow laws and New Deal government policies intentionally hampered their ability to better their lives. When against the odds they survived, or even managed to thrive through adversity African Americans were not afforded the place in history their white neighbors were. African Americans deserve a place in the Okie story. They moved, fought, starved, and struggled just as white Americans did, and their migrations changed the face of the United States just as irrevocably. The purpose of this page is to create an online archive of the Black Okie story.
About the Author
Welcome! I’m Tabitha Orr, a graduate student historian and Hennecke Research Follow getting my masters degree at the University of Tulsa. I have undergraduate degrees in history and African American studies,minoring in Gender Studies. I have continued to focus on issues of race and gender while at the University of Tulsa, working to complete my Masters in History in May, 2018. That’s my educational background.
For a project like this, I feel the need to acknowledge my own racial heritage. I am a member of the Cherokee Nation, but I was raised by my white mother without knowledge of my heritage and have not experienced racism firsthand. This is to say, I do not presume to speak for people of color (POC) and there may be objections to my assertion that African Americans should have a place in the Okie narrative. There may be no desire to be a part of this collective narrative of America’s past. My personal interests the stories that Americans tell themselves about themselves, the way that media and pop culture infuses our generalized “knowledge” about our country’s story. We think we know how things are, because of how things were and these narratives shape public policy and public opinion today. That is the spirit in which I undertook the research, and why I share it, this is how it really was, as it has always been in the United States: people of all races actively negotiating space with one another. We are not separately moving racialized nations. White people and people of color have been moving side by side, with an unbalance of power since the beginning of our nation, and the accepted narrative about who belongs has been shaped within this unbalance.