Segments descriptions
      Regions of the U.S. Series
      West, Part

         Description: Farm belt 3

West, Part 2
:     sampler  2’    (55’ lecture)

What is the reason the Great Plains farmers
in the West are in a form of economic
depression starting back in about 1921, and
 so are hit especially hard by the Great
Depression of the 1930s?

play sampler


Race in the Far West



The Chinese and Mexican-Americans.   They are the original settlers, but become virtual slaves in the South as sharecroppers. 



The Japanese influx to the far West brings capitalist mentality, are successful farmers and business people.  There is much hostility against them.  The San Francisco Board of Education's attempt to segregate Japanese students is protested by the Japanese government.  President Theodore Roosevelt shares this racism but respects Japan's emergence as a world power and treats the case with more care, causing the Board of Education to back off. 



The American Indians.  Continually pushed westward.  The Indians Wars after the Civil War attempt to finish them off.  The Wounded Knee massacre.  The issue of co-existing or fighting back.  The fate of the Western Indians is put in the hands of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and suffer its corruption.  The attempt of missionaries to Americanize the Indians.  In the 20th century Indians encounter enormous prejudice against them.  The issue of how to preserve their culture.  The dichotomy between the Reservation where they have control but with a poor quality of life suffering from the corruption of Indian officials as well as the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  The alternative is assimilation but losing their culture.  There are periods of reform but generally the dilemma is constant.  Defenders idealize the Indians unrealistically. 



The Role of the KKK.  National revival of the KKK in the 1920s, they are also powerful in the West, directing racism against blacks, labor, Indians, Catholics, Jews.  They see themselves as moral arbiters of the country.




The 20th Century—1st Half.




Great economic leaps.  Oil and timber industries thrive.  The San Joaquin Valley becomes the breadbasket of the West. 



The 1930s Great Depression hits the West hard.  Unemployment is high and workers lose their role as consumers.  New Deal legislation affects the West but with mixed results.  Public projects include Boulder Dam, Hoover Dam, Grand Coolie Dam which provide electricity and employment.  The WPA creates everyday kinds of jobs, and the CCC employs teenagers to work in national forests, addressing the psychological aspect of self worth following work. 



Small farmers and the Depression.  They suffer from 1921 when they lose the Army market following demobilization after World War I ends, and because of increased foreign competition.  The Great Depression makes their plight worse.  There is further tragedy in the Great Plain States when drought combines with erosion from over-farming to create dust storms which blow away top soil.  Farmers are forced to leave, become displaced to California along with blue collar workers, business people, .  This is seen as an invasion of unwanted people who become a cheap labor force.  

The New Deal aid.  The New Deal passes the Agricultural Allotment Act designed to raise produce prices by reducing production.  This does not work well. 



World War II ends the Depression. Agriculture booms, industries needed for war greatly expand.  The dark side is the internment of Japanese-Americans who are forcefully displaced from their homes, farms, and businesses by the government who knows at that time they are not a national security threat.  Motivation is economic at times and the element of prejudice.




The 20th Century—2nd Half



The Cold War.  The wartime boom continues with the beginning of the Cold War.  Farming evolves into large scale corporation farms as agribusiness requiring cheap labor, sounding the death knell of the old time family farm.  The Oakies are now in military industries.  Instead the Chicanos and Mexicans are the low cost labor force working under degrading conditions.  The United Farm Workers union under Caesar Chavez tries to relieve the worst conditions. 



Organized labor.  Dave Beck is head of the Teamsters which us somewhat corrupt.  Harry Bridges the Longshoremen's effective leader in the West, is sympathetic to the Communist Party, is incorruptible. Clashes between Bridge's and Beck's unions.  Cold War hysteria against Bridges.  



The American Indians.  Problems continue with Reservation life even after development of casinos whose profits are not shared or exploited by outsiders.  In the 1960s   the American Indian Movement attempts to revive and understand its remarkable history going back centuries. There is the belief that to deny a people's history is to control them. 



African-Americans.  They are ghettoized in Oakland, California.  The civil rights movement of the 1960s and the rise of the Black Panther Party of black militants.  They start children's services but also advocate an eye-for-an-eye, matching violence with violence and have a fatalistic outlook when they confront state power.  They are financed by drugs.  The Watts riots in the 1960s are caused by rising expectations of LBJ's Great Society thwarted by the Vietnam War. 



Migration.  In the 1950s migration to the West and Northwest heightens. California becomes the most populated state, with more political clout because of its electoral vote. 



The New Right.  The far right emerges in the West with Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, with anti-government attitude, argues that government should not interfere in business but should in personal behavior and morals.  Retirees move to Oregon.  The Pacific rim is now a crucial economic factor for the world. 



The Myth of the West is deeply ingrained in the U.S.  The cowboy image is a selective image, the John Wayne myth.  One quarter to one third of cowboys are African-Americans.  The mythology is extended by Hollywood, literature, detective stories, which use a Los Angeles or San Francisco theme.  Politically, economically, and racially, the West is a crucial part of our history and future.



The Mormons.  They are despised as religious outsiders practicing polygamy and as an entity to themselves not loyal to the U.S.  Under the leadership of Brigham Young they settle in Utah by the Great Salt Lake.  Mormons come to dominate the area after Utah becomes a state.