9/10/13

Dust, Depression, and Dispair: 1930's

Shack Home, May Ave Camp, OKC, 1939
"Hoovervilles", Sandtowns, Shantytowns...were all names for mini communities of the homeless, jobless, and sometimes hopeless in the 1930's.  In OKC, there was the May Ave Camp, south of the Canadian River. It is generally located as between Pennsylvanis and Byers and May Ave and SW 15th.  In 1935, most reports stated 2,000 men, women, and children were living atop the old city dump eeking out an existence.

There were other camps along the North Canadian River in Oklahoma City, but the one at May and Pennsylvania, was a larger camp . OKC had been unique in organizing formal mini-towns to deal with the depressions displaced workers. Images captured the heartache and suffering of people of all ages and walks of life.

 Elm Grove was such a community established to address the needs of the homeless in a organized manner, including a school but by end of the decade, the attitude had changed.  Some feared the camps might attracted transients with no desire or intent to work and simply support them to the detrament of the city.  The camps were a haunting reminder of hard times well into the early 1950's.

As the early 1930's progressed, the economic depression due to the stock market crash of 1929 was compounded by years of deadly drought that unbalanced the agriculture in ways the stock market could not.

Until as late as the 1980's, some of that area still went by the monikers designating these Community Camps. Especially the area known as Sandtown, Mulligan's Flats, or more oftrn as simply 'the Flats'.  Later, there was one camp near the current Farmer's Market and one further south near the meat packing/stockyards region.

A dump area was along the river on both banks stretching from Villa/Agne all the way past Portland. A lot of this area was simply wide open empty land. After the camps emptied, some were cleared in the 1970's and street expansion took place.  In other areas a more formal dump was in place in the mid century. A large section of the extension of SW 15th went right over the old camp and dump site.  Workers claim everytime there is blade or dirt work done in the are old metal and broken glass come to the surface (near 1-40 and 1-44 near the river.

Much about the life in these camps was captured by photographer Russell Lee in stark and vivid images of life for people whose only choice was the camp.

Periodically, even OKC was touched by the dust storms as well....





Great images and information can be found here ----
http://www.edmondschools.net/Portals/2/docs/SocStudies/OppelG/Oklahoma%20Hooverville.pdf
http://www.lizcollinshistoryclasses.com/depression-the-new-deal--hope-in-new-mexico.html
http://www.whatwasthere.com/browse.aspx#!/ll/35.4569690006711,-97.5662201281525/id/41563/info/details/zoom/14/

LOC at http://lcweb2.loc.gov/service/pnp/fsa/8b22000/8b22400/8b22463r.jpg

2 comments:

joseph white said...

The Milligan flats is north of reno and both east and west of Agnew/villa south of Nw 9th. If you really like obscure bits of history when it comes to early oklahoma city then you might look into the area you refer to as sand town. Settled in about 1884 it sits just south of reno with original core now beneath the oklahoma river and what's left of it squeezed between the river channel and I-40 between agnew and may ave. It was there long before the Milligan flats or any "Hoovervilles existed in that area. I am from okc and remember hearing stories from a couple of my teachers over the years who would talk about that area ororiginally being settled by chickasaw freedmen before Oklahoma station even existed.

joseph white said...

Reference Doug dawgs blog as well as a thesis by a Cornell student on the subject. Very interesting.

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