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Woody Guthrie and Socialism in Oklahoma

[ From the OkieFunk blog:

What the right-wing says is that Guthrie, who was born in Okemah, was a radical because he once wrote a column for The Daily Worker, a communist newspaper. What they fail to mention is Guthrie wrote for this paper in a historical period in which thousands upon thousands of farmers and workers in the United States considered themselves socialist. Yes, even in Oklahoma, there were countless … socialists from the state’s founding to World War II. At one point in our state history, a socialist candidate for governor received more than ten percent of the vote.

–BL ]

Woody Guthrie’s Heroic Legacy

03 June 2004 | OkieFunk.blogspot.com

by Kurt Hochenauer

Woody Guthrie, the Oklahoman native who wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” is a true American hero, but the Oklahoma right-wing attack machine has spent decades distorting his historical legacy.

Most younger Okies, say below the age of 30, probably do not even know who he is, and those that do probably dismiss him as a radical communist because that is the charge the Oklahoma right-wing lodges against him.

No matter that Guthrie wrote about the pain and suffering endured by thousands of Okies during the 1930s Dust Bowl days. (His songs in Dust Bowl Ballads record the tragedy of that time period.)

No matter that Guthrie spoke out against fascism.

No matter that Guthrie’s influence in creating a distinctly American folk music is incalculable.

No matter that Bob Dylan wrote a tribute to Guthrie that essentially credits him for creating contemporary folk music.

What the right-wing says is that Guthrie, who was born in Okemah, was a radical because he once wrote a column for The Daily Worker, a communist newspaper. What they fail to mention is Guthrie wrote for this paper in a historical period in which thousands upon thousands of farmers and workers in the United States considered themselves socialist. Yes, even in Oklahoma, there were countless numbers of socialists from the state’s founding to World War II. At one point in our state history, a socialist candidate for governor received more than ten percent of the vote.

So, as President Herbert Hoover, a Republican, favored huge corporations over the basic welfare of impoverished people in the 1920s, Guthrie spoke out for middle-class and poor people. He was a true American patriot.

Guthrie is a major part of our tradition in this state, and he represents an inclusive and compassionate populism that is far more historically important and significant than the spread of the right-wing rhetoric of hate and distortion in Oklahoma over the last twenty-five years.

What a great musician and man! What a treaure he is for Oklahoma! The state needs to embrace his legacy, not reject it. The Woody Guthrie Festival, held annually in Okemah does just that. It runs from July 14-18 this year.

This state and country could use some basic Woody Guthrie wisdom these days:

“This land is your land
This land is my land
From California to the New York Island
From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me.”

The Oklahoma Gazette has an interesting article about Guthrie in this week’s issue.

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