Ivan's Place
In honor of the greatest moralist who never lived
Copyright © 2004 by Bill Becker

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Dust Bowl Festival — Weedpatch, California
October 20, 2007

Not long after I moved to rural California in late 2002, I browsed through a book and gift store in Exeter. On a shelf there I found Jerry Stanley's Children of the Dust Bowl: The True Story of the School at Weedpatch Camp. The book was instantly of interest to me because of my earlier efforts on behalf of the United Farm Workers Union, and so naturally I bought it.

Children of the Dust Bowl is an account of the building of a school for the children of those dust bowl emigrés who found themselves at the Weedpatch Camp, a federal migrant labor camp in Weedpatch, California. (Kern County, southern San Joaquin Valley.)

This is the same camp which was featured so graphically in John Steinbeck's investigative report The Harvest Gypsies: On the Road to the Grapes of Wrath, about the exploitation of the tens of thousands of "Okies" who responded to grower-promoted flyers promising a land of milk and honey to those who would come west to harvest California's crops. Originally published as a seven-part series by the San Francisco News, October 5-12, 1936, Harvest Gypsies became The Grapes of Wrath three years later.

Every year on the site of the original camp, a Dustbowl Festival is held to honor the achievements and the integrity of the camp's residents. I made sure to be at this year's celebration on October 20. But, I was on my way to Los Angeles, and was not as diligent with my camera as I usually am at this kind of event. Thus this year's minimalist report, but I hope that the last two images will provide a visceral sense of the mood of the times, and stimulate an interest in purchasing both Children of the Dust Bowl and Harvest Gypsies, and perhaps a visit to the festival for those in the neighborhood.

Jerry Stanley Jerry Stanley, author of Children of the Dust Bowl. Mr. Stanley is a retired professor of history, California State University, Bakersfield. I was very pleased to be able to meet him at the festival.

The young girl just visible at right is one of two elementary school students who interviewed Mr. Stanley.

The photograph below needs no comment.

Resolution passed by Kern County Board of Supervisors

Poem by Leo Hart Leo Hart was the Kern County Superintendent of Education, and was responsible for the creation of the Weedpatch Camp School, and for hiring the teachers who made it such a success.

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