Black Okies

Halfway between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, in the forgotten middle of California, live the last surviving Black Okies. They were the great exception to America’s great migration. Unlike millions of other blacks fleeing the South, liberation for them wasn’t Chicago or Detroit or Los Angeles or Oakland. Between thirty and forty thousand black migrants came to the San Joaquin Valley in the 1940s and 50s carrying a different dream. They had left Oklahoma and Arkansas, Texas and Louisiana, looking to keep alive their rural souls, right down to the cotton picking. Today, all that’s left of their exile is old women and preachers, dry earth and broken dreams.

Oral Histories

Dorothy Toney Number 1:

Dorothy Toney Number 2:

Dorothy Toney Number 3

More Resources

Photo Gallery by Ernest Lowe
View documentary film by Joel Pickford and Mark Arax

Read Mark Arax’s Los Angeles Times stories:

A Lost Tribe’s Journey to a Land of Broken Promises
A Myth of Hope in a Land of Tragedy
Life and Death of a Guardian Angel

Publications by historian Michael Eissinger
on rural African American communities in the Valley