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The Dust Bowl Migration to California
Family arriving in Los Angeles from Oklahoma in 1935. Dorothea Lange photo.

by James Gregory

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.






mapping Great MigrationsHere 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





Other online resources




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