During the 1940s and 50s, between 30,000 and 40,000 black sharecroppers left the deep south and migrated to the rural Central Valley of California. While the saga of the white Dust Bowl Okies has been chronicled by everyone from John Steinbeck to Dorothea Lange, the story of the Black Okies has gone largely untold- until now.
Arriving in California a decade after the Dust Bowl, many black migrants were put out of work by mechanized farming almost as soon as they arrived. Stranded in squalid labor camps, they struggled for decades to bring water and other basic services to their unincorporated communities. Meanwhile, they lived in the shadow of the largest cotton plantation in history—the one created by J.G. Boswell after he lobbied the federal government to drain Tulare Lake and dam the four rivers that fed it.
Filmed in 2004 and completed in 2015, this new documentary by Joel Pickford and Mark Arax lets the last surviving Black Okies tell their story in their own voices.