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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • THE NAVY NEEDS YOU IN THE WAVES

The Cherries of Wrath: 1940

The Cherries of Wrath: 1940

July 1940. Berrien County, Michigan. "Migrant fruit workers from Arkansas." 35mm nitrate negative by John Vachon for the FSA. View full size.

 

Ma and Pa

The fabric Ma's dress is made from is gorgeous, and her jacket is kind of pretty, too. Look at the broken in nature of Pa's work jacket. We pay $85 now for items of clothing that are artificially broken in before they're even worn. Pa's eyes are sensitive, intelligent, and defiant. Bogart could have played him. Ma, on the other hand, looks a bit like one of the browbeating wives that Laurel or Hardy might have been shackled to. I'll bet Pa knew to mind his Ps and Qs. I wonder how often he loaned her his pipe.

Words on Truck

Would love to know what it says on the side of the truck.

["Nashville Tenn." - Dave]

My great-grandparents and their children were migriant pickers out of Western Oklahoma who picked tomatos and strawberries into Arkansas in the 1930s on their way to settle in Northwest Arkansas. So, while everyone else was going west, they were headed east.

Lot of people on the move in all directions back in those days.

I know a couple a lot like this duo

They eat at our soup kitchen every weekend, and they both are seriously disturbed. He fights off a rage that makes him want to kill people. She is so shy and ashamed, she can't look you in the eye ever. But it's remarkable; their faces are almost identical. Almost as if they've been soul mates in past lives and are together again now. Makes you sort of wonder...

Corncob pipes

My grandfather always smoked half & half tobacco in a corncob pipe. If we bought him another kind of pipe it would just sit on the shelf and he would tell us the flavor is not the same if it's not a corncob pipe.

Have I met their grandkids?

I live in Berrien County, the southwesternmost in Michigan, right on the lakeshore. One wonders if they stayed, maybe found work in the various machine industries that were prevalent at the time. These days, there are fewer cherry orchards, most being farther north.

By contrast to the pair in the photograph, the last time I picked cherries, it was for the pleasure of a day in the orchards, and the indulgence of making my own jelly and pies with fruit I picked myself.

Harvest of Shame

Maybe they did get back home and give up the migrant life, but many who earned their bread cultivating and harvesting kept on doing that for another generation or longer. In 1960, Edward R. Murrow presented a documentary, "Harvest of Shame", on the plight of migrant workers on CBS. It was quite hard-hitting and made many Americans aware of this social program for the first time.

Below are Murrow's opening and closing statements from "Harvest of Shame"

This scene is not taking place in the Congo. It has nothing to do with Johannesburg or Cape Town. It is not Nyasaland or Nigeria. This is Florida. These are citizens of the United States, 1960. This is a shape-up for migrant workers. The hawkers are chanting the going piece rate at the various fields. This is the way the humans who harvest the food for the best-fed people in the world get hired. One farmer looked at this and said, "We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them."

and

The migrants have no lobby. Only an enlightened, aroused and perhaps angered public opinion can do anything about the migrants. The people you have seen have the strength to harvest your fruit and vegetables. They do not have the strength to influence legislation. Maybe we do. Good night, and good luck."

Fear Not

Pearl Harbor was a little over a year away. The country would change forever and for the better. They could return to Michigan for a job that would make them not rich, but not in the dire straits they appear to be in. However, nobody knows. Perhaps they returned to Arkansas and continued their hardscrabble life or maybe even prospered there.

Must be the pipe

At first glance I thought of Norman Rockwell.

Purple and Red

Stalin banned showings of "The Grapes of Wrath," because it showed even the poorest Americans had automobiles.

Hard work did it

Meet John, age 28, and his wife, age 26.

Life is a box of cherries

How is it that men can age and weather in the elements and look kind of intriguing, rugged, and sexy, but women just look beaten down?! From Mr. Corncob Pipe's hands, you can see that he isn't that old, but the lady next to him, from the lines around her mouth and nose to her piercing expression, looks like she's seen millions of cherries, and all of them sour.

Just going on record as saying it isn't fair...

 
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