The Dust Bowl was among the worst human-made environmental disasters of the twentieth century. Its root cause was the over-farming of once-rich prairie grasslands in the southern plains of the United States, followed by extreme drought in the early 1930s. For over a decade, furious dust storms blew across the region, devastating the farmland and the people who lived there. The worst of those storms occurred on Sunday, April 14, 1935, a day that became known as Black Sunday. This “black blizzard” caused people to fear the world was ending, and it had a tremendous effect on the twenty-two-year-old Guthrie. Seeing the powerful destruction of these storms catalyzed him to become a spokesperson for the disenfranchised.
Dust storm approaching Stratford, Texas, 1935
NOAA George E. Marsh Album
Woody Guthrie: Well, some of the worst dust storms in the history of the whole world, I guess, broke loose right there in that country.
Steve Earle: Stripped of protective grasses, destroyed by cash crops, and impacted by climate change, the over-cultivated farmland of the Great Plains supplied the dust that would bury American cities. Journalists began to speak of America’s “Dust Bowl.” And the worst single day that anyone could remember was “Black Sunday”—April 14th, 1935.
Woody Guthrie: I remember the particular evening of April 14, 1935, that this dust storm here blowed up. I was standin’, a whole bunch of us was standin’, just outside of this little town here that you see. And so we watched the dust storm come up like the Red Sea closin’ in on the Israel children and any way, we stood there and watched the son of a gun come up and I am a-tellin’ you that it got so black when that thing hit, we all run into the house and all of the neighbors had all congregated in different houses round over the neighborhood and around over town and we sat there in a little old room and it got so dark that you couldn’t see your hand before your face. You couldn’t see anybody in the room… So, we got to talkin’, ya know, and uh, a lot of people in the crowd that was religious-minded and they was up pretty well on the scriptures, they said, “Well, boys, girls, friends, and relatives, this is the end.”
The human race ain’t been treatin’ each other right and robbin’ each other in different ways, with fountain pens, guns, and havin’ wars and killin’ each other and shootin’ round. So, the feller that made this world, he’s worked up this dust storm and there has never been anything like it in the whole history of the world.