Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Black Blizzard

The Diviners is set in Indiana, part of the region known as the "Dustbowl," during the 1930's. During the Hoover (and early Roosevelt) administration the United States was hit by the Great Depression, dust storms from loose topsoil plagued the Midwest, and Tent Revivals toured the small towns in America.

On "Black Tuesday" the Stock Market crashed, which was the start of the Great Depression. Unemployment rates increased drastically as companies went bankrupt and the "Roaring Twenties" was officially laid to rest. The worst economic collapse in the history of the modern industrial world put a huge strain on companies, farms, and families. Many farms that were already under-productive because of the drought that hit the Midwest were taken over by the government, leaving many families homeless or without a means of living.

There was a mass migration of 'Oakies,' 'Arkies' and 'Indies' to California in search of jobs and food during this time, but this trek was by no means the standard solution. Only a small percent of people affected by the drought in the Dust Bowl moved, and those who did not move were most often afflicted by the economic depression and not directly by dust storms.

The combination of the drought years, which were accompanied by record breaking heavy rains, blizzards, tornadoes and floods, and the constant misuse of the land led to the devastation of the area known as the Dust Bowl. When settlers brought their farming techniques with them as they homesteaded the area in and around the Great Plains, they plowed the grasses that held the soil in place. During World War I, wheat crops were in high demand and the constant planting and reaping exhausted the topsoil. Overgrazing by cattle and sheep herds stripped the western plains of their cover. When the drought hit the midwest there was no real anchor for the soil, and it dried up and blew away. By 1934, the area of the Great Plains had been turned into a desert of sorts. The devastated western third of Kansas, all of Southeastern Colorado, the Oklahoma Panhandle, the northern two-thirds of the Texas Panhandle, and northeastern New Mexico were referred to as a "dust bowl" by one reporter, and the name stuck.

The Dust Bowl was not, by any means, the same thing as the mass exodus of farmers from their lands, it was just in the same area at the same time. In fact, most people who were affected by dust storms in the Dust Bowl did not go anywhere. People often incorrectly use the Dust Bowl, the drought, and the mass migration during the Depression synonymously.

During this period in history, a new form of worship emerged to bring comfort to a beleagered nation. Tent Revivals marked the mutation of Evangelical Protestantism into glitzy specticles. Tents that could hold hundreds or even thousands of people were erected throughout the countryside and eagerly attended. At these gatherings, sins would be publicly confessed and forgiven, hymns were sung and scripture read, and damnation and hellfire were preached. Some of the most prominent names in revivals were Father Divine, Aimee Semple McPherson, and Indiana's own Billy Sunday.

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