Black Migrants is an exhibition of African-American farm worker photos I took in the 1960s curated by Michele Ellis Pracy at the Fresno Art Museum. The exhibition is now available for showing new venues.
While covering farm workers’ life, work, and union organizing in the 1960s I visited 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. more
Teviston mother and children pause from doing laundry on front porch
Ernest Lowe checks out a Bolex in a cotton field near Cororan. November 18, 1961. photo by Phillip Greene.
Ernest Lowe in a Mexican restaurant in Dos Palos. photo by Joel Pickford March 2015
The elder who put Tonto on his living room wall. Teviston, November 1964
They named their football field The Dust Bowl. Some went on to play college and pro football. Teviston, November 1964
Woman crossing one of the few paved roads in Teviston. November 20, 1961
Patching holes in the roof in between storms. November 20, 1961
Blossom St Grocery South Dos Palos July 12, 1961
Reverend R. D. Daniels praises the Lord at Friendship Baptist. Teviston, October 1964
Fellowship after service at Friendship Baptist Church. Teviston, October 1964
There's little work in the Winter so you stand around all day.”
Thomas Spencer inspects his kitchen garden. Teviston, October 1964.
A family's kitchen. Teviston, October 1964.
Thomas Spencer's library. Teviston, October 1964
You my friend. Tonto not let you die!" (Lone Ranger radio show)
Living room of a Teviston windower's home. October 1964
Teviston's children improvised their playgrounds and toys. Lester Perry about to swing on rope pulled by Goldie Beavers and Delores Perry. Benjamin Beavers and toddler Donald watch from porch
A Hwy 99 underpass linking the West and East sides of Teviston. November 1964
A fringe of Teviston along the frontage road for Hwy 99.
A link to the outside world for Mutt and Blanche Jones who were building their house from scrap lumber. Teviston, November 20, 1961
The sun came in low under dark clouds, reflecting from the puddles. Teviston, November20, 1961
Willie Mae's Place, a juke joint in South Dos Palos. July 12, 1961
Outhouse behind a Teviston church, November 1964
. . . shacks here, shacks there . . . a few nice buildings and some . . . shame on 'em." Teviston October 1964
A row of houses in distance, muddy road
Teviston, November 20, 1961
Teen age girls in dining room of a rundown Victorian home. Stockton, September 3, 1960
Stockton, September 3, 1960
Door of unfinished Holiness church. Jericho March 21, 1961
Jack of all trades sign in Jericho, March 22, 1961
Three generations in an East Mendota shack. March 21,1961
You come with me, take a picture of the place I’m livin’ ”
East Mendota, Fresno County, March 21, 1961
Joe Marshall, Willie Brewster, and Lee Marshall, with Joe's Mercury, a cart made of a melon crate they used to haul produce, water, and ice around the neighborhood. South Dos Palos, July 12, 1961
Zella Marshall, unknown, Lee Marshall, and Sylvester "Bronco" Marshall. South Dos Palos, July 12, 1961
Cafe in East Mendota March 21,1961
Charles Beavers hauls water three miles from Pixley for the Beavers and other families. They had no water they could drink at home. Teviston, October 1964
Fixing the car for work next Spring. Teviston, November, 1964
William McKinley "Buck" Ashmore's back yard car repair shop
William McKinley “Buck” Ashmore repairs cars after a life time of picking cotton. Teviston October 1964
A boy harvests onions in 100+ weather. a field along Hwy 33 on west side of Fresno County, July 11, 1961
Pausing in a cotton field for a potrait near Pixley. November 11, 1961
It takes real skill to pick cotton fibers from the boll quick enough to fill hundred pound sacks we drag along behind
A Black woman puts her 100 pound sack on the scales, which were often rigged. Pickers would compensate by adding rocks to their load.
Woman climbing down ladder after dumping her bag full of cotton. Cotton field near Pixley, November 11, 1961
See, the machines are pickin' most of the cotton. There's just little patches the machine can't get to that the people get to pick." November 18, 1961. Near Corcoran in Kings County
Net income from the San Joaquin Valley's cotton industry was the highest on record in 1964. October 1964 near Corcoran
A day's wages for chopping sugar beets, East Mendota March 21,1961
Walking home from cotton field near Pixley. November 11, 1961
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.