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    California was in trouble. By 1934 over a million of her six million citizens were on public assistance. Migrants weren't welcome. Yet they came-over 650,000 of them in the decade of the '30s.Click for larger image The state feared being over-run. It tried every means, legal and otherwise, to evict vagrants and to bar "unemployables" from entry.

   Violence, if not openly sanctioned, was common, as common as the slur, "Okie," which came to stigmatize all the white poor.

--This Land Is Your Land:
The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie


   Click for larger image Guthrie was always a drifter. In the late 1930's he traveled to California by jumping on trains and hitching rides, sleeping among migrants, dust bowl refugees, and hobos. These experiences became the basis for his stories and lyrics, as well as material for his autobiography, Bound for Glory, written in 1943. Guthrie's first wife, Mary Jennings, once said, "It was as if he identified so deeply with the down-and-outers; he couldn't quite be comfortable as an up-and-comer."


   Click for larger image Guthrie arrived in California in the summer of 1937 and immediately found his way into show business. He and his cousin Jack called themselves "The Oklahoma and Woody Show," and they made their debut on KFVD Radio in Hollywood on July 19, 1937. Woody later formed a harmony duo with Maxine Crissman, working together as "The Woody and Lefty Lou Show." The show received 20,000 fan letters per week and was so popular that it aired three times a day.


    "We got more than 20,000 letters from farmers, town workers, movie workers, ships at sea, gold prospectors, desert rats, dude ranches, mountain lodges, slums, skid rows, tenements, churches, school buses, and people of all colors and kinds." Click for larger image

-- Woody Guthrie


    Click for larger image While living in California, Guthrie became involved with the struggles of Dust Bowl refugees and migrant workers and went through a political awakening. He became a solitary voice of the poor against the rich, the worker against the owner, expressing himself through his words, art, and music. In the hard times of the 1930's the immensely popular singing cowboy image represented faith and renewal. Adamant to stick to his own unique style that spoke directly to the hearts of hard working people, Guthrie ignored the demands of radio producers by refusing to adopt the cowboy stereotype.


    In 1938 Woody moved his wife and children to Los Angeles. That same year Lefty Lou left the radio show due to poor health. Woody wandered up the San Joaquin Valley, visiting migrant camps where he noticed a clear delineation between the haves and have-nots. Here he saw conditions that forever changed his perspective on life:Click for larger image


    He saw children, living under bridges, within sight of bountiful orchards and produce farms. The kids were dying of starvation.

--This Land Is Your Land:
The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie


    In 1938 Guthrie began writing a column called "Woody Sez" for the People's World, the leading West Coast communist newspaper. Woody, Click for larger imageactor Will Geer, and actor/musician Cisco Houston performed inspirational entertainment for the people in migrant camps. Guthrie supported the people whose struggles were the hardest, most of whom were members of the Communist Party. Woody was not a member of the Communist Party himself, proclaiming, "I ain't a communist necessarily, but I been in the red all my life."

    "We drove my '31 Chevy around the sad canyons to play for migrant strikers. I saw hundreds of thousands of stranded, broke, hungry, idle, miserable people that line the highways all out through the leaves and underbrush. I heard these people sing in their jungle camps and in their federal work camps and sang songs I made up for them over the airwaves."

-- Woody Guthrie