Today in History: Dust Storm! Great Plains to Eastern Seaboard

| May 11, 2017

170508_news_219x365Drylongso’s eyes lit up. He nodded, eagerly. “Earth’s not made to heave up so, but to lie down, The ground stands up to teach folks not to plow the grasslands.” “Seems so, said Lindy’s dad. “There was a dust storm once, started in New Mexico and traveled as far as Washington, D.C. Folks had overused the land. Made it rise up.” –Hamilton, Virginia. Drylongso. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, c1992 (p.24)

Droughts in the United States tend to occur every 20 years — the 1930, 50s, 90s, 10’s — but even as recent as 2016, when the Northeast, including New York, was hit by a lesser, though still prolonged summer drought. Drylongso, the youth hero who personifies both drought and the desire for rain in Virginia Hamilton‘s eponymous children’s book, credits Nature in giving a lesson, but kindly teaches better farming methods to Lindy’s family, who struggle to survive in the mid 1970s on their farm west of the Mississippi River.

While agricultural practices have improved over the decades, weather patterns and global warming pose threats to the health and sustainability of our planet. Dry-long-so might have meant “ordinary” in the patois of the African American community during the Plantation Era, but it is a noun, proper or common, with serious repercussions — leading us to ask how we hold our future and impact education. (See Education in the Drought States: A Report Prepared for the Joint Commission on the Emergency in Education: Washington, D.C: National Education Association, October 1934). Little wonder that The Grapes of Wrath (New York: Viking Press, 1939), set in Oklahoma during the Great Depression, continues to be frequently read in American high schools and colleges, for it is a tale of significant historical context — addressing the consequences of climate, abuse of land, poverty, lack of education, among other ills.

On May 11, 1934 the most severe dust storm to date spread 350 million tons of silt from the northern Great Plains to the eastern seaboard. This major storm was preceded by a series of lesser dust storms in the West, brought on by drought and farming methods (over-plowing and over-grazing) that failed to address environmental needs. Thousands of families, known as “Okies”, were forced to migrate to California from Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas. The dust was felt as far east as New York, causing many to be sick, and this massive storm eventually helped prompt legislation for smarter farming, including crop rotation and grass seeding.

The following articles are selected from Proquest Historical Newspapers, which informs and inspires classroom teaching and learning.


Tips: slide design-Dust Storm Great Plains to Eastern Seaboard

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