The press called them Dust Bowl refugees, although actually few came from the area devastated by dust storms. Instead they came from a broad area encompassing four southern plains states: Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, and Missouri. More than half a million left the region in the 1930s, mostly heading for California. In a decade when migration rates dropped nationwide, the families leaving the southern plains attracted a great deal of attention. Even before John Steinbeck translated the experience into one of the classic American novels of the twentieth century, the migration had become a media event, tracked by journalists, documented by photographers like Dorothea Lange.
Here are resources for exploring the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930s and the longer story of migration between the southern plans and the West Coast.
- Updating the Grapes of Wrath: The Okie Impact on California (James Gregory's "Dust Bowl Legacies: The Okie Impact on California 1939-1989" (pdf) published in California History)
- Dust Bowl Migration: Poverty Stories, Race Stories (James Gregory's "Dust Bowl Migration" published in Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, and Policy, eds. Gwendolyn Mink and Alice O'Connor (Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-Clio, 2004)
- Paying Attention to Moving Americans: Migration Knowledge in the Age of Internal Migration, 1930s-1970s (James Gregory's article in Migrants and Migration in Modern North America: Cross-Border Lives, Labor Markets, and Politics in Canada, the Caribbean, Mexico, and the United States, eds. Dirk Hoerder and Nora Faires (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011)
- American Exodus: The Dust Bowl Migration and Okie Culture in California (James Gregory's book published by Oxford University Press, 1989)
Here are interactive maps and charts that show various dimensions of the Dust Bowl Migration to California. The 1940 Census asked people where they had lived five year earlier. This gives us information about 286,746 people from the southern plains who moved to California in that interval including the counties where they settled. We also track the number of Oklahomans, Texans, and Arkansans living in California decade by decage
- Listen to the "Voices from the Dust Bowl: The Charles L. Todd and Robert Sonkin Migrant Worker Collection 1940-41" Here you will find songs and interviews recorded in the San Joaquin Valley migrant labor camps.
- Read the oral history interviews in California Odyssey: Dust Bowl Migration Digital Archives. This is a collection of 53 interviews conducted in 1980 and 1981 in Kern County, California.