A bittersweet memoir of growing up dirt poor in Oklahoma
When the peasants are deprived of fields to work, so goes the chorus of an old Irish ballad, “All that’s left is a love of the land”. In this exquisite rendering of her childhood in rural Oklahoma, from the Dust Bowl days to the end of the Eisenhower era, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz bears witness to a family and community which still clings to the dream of America as a republic of landowners.
Drawing deeply on the stories she heard in her early years, Dunbar-Ortiz brings to life one of the least understood groups in US history: poor rural whites. Today, they are perceived to be the backbone of the national campaigns against abortion and evolution, and for prayer in schools. They make up the population of disaffected working class whites, mostly descendants of Scots-Irish early settlers.
“Red Dirt” takes us into the minds of these people, allowing us to feel both their grievous sense of loss and their battered but still-clung-to faith. But there is a buried history Dunbar-Ortiz recovers of her Wobbly grandfather, of a time when white settler-farmers were fighting economic exploitation and political powerlessness as their mortal enemy.
“The sorrows and the courage of rich white Americans are nothing like the sorrows and the courage of poor white Americans, “white trash,” who must daily struggle against the rule that shame is their duty. Nowhere has this struggle been harder than in Roxie Amanda Dunbar’s state and mine, Oklahoma...I recommend her book enthusiastically to anyone who wonders how poor provincials anywhere have learned to stand up for liberty and justice for all.”