Black Migrants is an exhibition of African-American farm worker photos I took in the 1960s installed at the Fresno Art Museum from July 13, 2018 to January 6, 2019. The Museum is at 233 N. First St. Fresno, California
While covering farm workers’ life, work, and union organizing in the 1960s I discovered a number of African-American settlements in California’s San Joaquin Valley. These towns are a little known part of history, the results of the rural-to-rural stream of the Great Migration out of the Jim Crow south.
Although I shot many scenes of dire poverty and backbreaking work, I was moved to show the dignity and humanity of these hard working migrants. I saw their loving families, their sense of community, their strong work ethic . . . and even the joy of turning an old rope and tree into a playground for the kids.
Fresno Art Museum Director Michelle Ellis Pracy curated the exhibition.
Joel Pickford made the extraordinary prints.
Mark Arax and Michael Eissinger provided valuable background information on the history of the African-American settlements.
California Humanities Community Stories Program, Fresno Art Museum and its donors, and West of West Center for Narrative History of the Central Valley have provided funding.
I produced this narrated slideshow on Teviston—one of California’s Black Okie Communities—for the Framing Migrant Labor exhibit at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Agrella Gallery. My photos of the Wilson family are part of an exhibit that features Matt Black’s work, along with photos by Otto Hagel and Morrie Camhi.
The West of the West Center has produced Black Okies, a documentary on the history of Teviston directed by Joel Pickford. You can view this film by going to this site: https://vimeo.com/user25968631/blackokies Enter the password (case sensitive): Bokies0415
Michael Essinger is a doctoral student at UC Merced who is studying the forgotten history of African-American communities up and down the Central Valley. You can view or download his papers at this site: Black Okie History
Acres of Aspiration by Hannibal Johnson documents the all Black towns established in Oklahoma from the 1890s to the 1920s. They attracted independent, hard-working families from the deep South. This helps explain the strength of the younger generation that moved to California in the 50s to found Teviston and other primarily Black communities in California. One can order from Alibris.com.
In the 60s I discovered a number of African-American towns in the San Joaquin Valley, later dubbed Black Okie communities by author Mark Arax. These towns are a little known part of California history, which my photographs and radio shows documented for the first time. In the Spring and Summer of 2015 I revisited South Dos Palos (on the west side of Merced County) and Teviston (on Hwy 99 in Tulare County). To my surprise I found several families of the kids I’d photographed. I was able to photograph them at church and at family reunions in both towns.
I’ll be uploading galleries of photographs from the 60s and the present day, as well as links to articles and academic research on this forgotten side of California history.