It might be hard to tell today with politicians like Inhofe, Tom Cole and Tom Coburn, but the history of Oklahoma is about as progressive as the history of any state in America.
When white people first encountered Oklahoma, they were generally on their way to someplace else – traveling the wagon train trails west or driving cattle from Texas north to stockyards.
The original Native People in Oklahoma included the Caddo, Wichita, Comanche, and Osage.
That all changed, however, in the 1830′s when the US government forcibly removed as many Native People from the southeast as they could. Those tribes included the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw primarily from Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.
A rich ethnic stew began to brew so that there are many people in Oklahoma today of native, black and white ethnicity – a stew I’m very proud to be part of.
Sequoyah, the great and disabled Cherokee warrior and medicine man lived and died in Oklahoma. A genius, he invented the only Native alphabet in American history.
The federal government opened lands to poor white people in the 1890′s. Within 20 years, this mix of the exploited and oppressed had organized and formed the largest Socialist Party per capita in America. They made their state motto “Labor Over All.” Sharecroppers, tenant farmers, small land owners, and others organized and won a state government that worked for its people.
It was into that milieu that America’s greatest folk song writer, Woody Guthrie, was born. He wrote America’s greatest progressive hymn, This Land is Your Land.
A series of droughts and wind storms drove most of the farmers, tenant farmers, and sharecroppers in the 1920′s and 30′s to California. John Steinbeck documented the exodus in Grapes of Wrath and documented their continued organizing in California in the novel In Dubious Battle.
Trade unionists, artists, native folks, and progressives led by a Cherokee woman named Rachel Jackson have been working to remind Oklahomans of their rich history and revive it for several years now. I have done all I can do to help them. My native direct ancestors who are Cherokee and Chickasaw avoided the Trail of Tears, but I still have people there.
We sincerely hope you will join the historical tour coming up in July to take another step toward a collective memory and collective action.
Image: African-American sharecroppers in Oklahoma
Image Source: Father of Don O’Brien via Wikimedia Commons
This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.