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Radical Roundups

August 7, 2002

Almanac Transcript

Radical roundups this week on the Oklahoma Audio Almanac.

Hello, I’m Steven Knoche Kite.

For the farmers and workers of southern Oklahoma the U.S. entry into World War I was not a patriotic event to be celebrated and supported. Instead, many viewed the incident as yet another hardship brought on by the federal government that they were being forced to endure. The economy of southern Oklahoma at this time was in a severe down turn as farmers faced outrageous interest rates, low crop prices and poor weather. In ever increasing numbers once successful farmers found themselves suddenly kicked out of their houses, their land taken away, and with little or no means to support their families. These farmers and their families now faced a lifetime of veritable economic slavery as they struggled to pay off loans and debts. Now the federal government on top of this demanded that they register for the draft, leave their home and family, to fight in a war that mattered very little to them.

In response to feeling ignored and abused, many citizens in southern Oklahoma began to form their own radical action groups such as the "Working Class Union" and the "Universal Union." The leaders of these groups organized a march on Washington to voice their complaints to President Woodrow “Big Slick” Wilson. It was in this week of 1917 that hundreds of men organized in Seminole and Pontotoc Counties to begin their march of protest. Their plans to live primarily off of corn found in fields along the way gave the movement its name, "The Green Corn Rebellion."

On the morning of August 4th the rebellion began as men cut telegraph and telephone lines, burned railroad bridges and took to the road. What happened next has been labeled by at least one historian as a "tragicomedy." A sheriff’s posse intercepted the marchers a few miles from their starting point and following a gun battle three protestors lay dead with many wounded. The Green Corn Rebellion was over just hours after it had started and the protesters never made it out of the county much less the state. Hundreds were arrested and many spent decades behind bars at McAlester and Leavenworth. The Green Corn Rebellion, occurring this week in 1917, rather than a glorious voicing of discontent instead added yet another layer of tragedy to lives already filled with doom and despair.

I'm Steven Knoche Kite.

The Oklahoma Audio Almanac is a joint production of the Oklahoma State University Library and Oklahoma's Public Radio.

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