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Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Russell Lee: Mays Avenue Camp, Oklahoma City, 1939


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Family in front of shack home in Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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A well, water supply for about a dozen families in Mays Avenue camp. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Children of Mays Avenue camp pumping water from a well which supplies about a dozen families, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Privy of family living in Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Detail of henhouse and pigeon cote, Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Pans and outdoor kitchen cupboard of family living near Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Detail of interior of shack home in Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Young married girl in Mays Avenue camp patching her husband's overalls, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Interior of shack home of family living in Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Bed with roof over it in Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Resident of Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, taking piece of glass out of boy's foot: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Mother fanning child with old hat to keep off flies, Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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Children in shack home, Mays Avenue camp, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939

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City dump, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was on top of such as this that the Mays Avenue camp was built: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939


Photos from Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Collection, Library of Congress

11 comments:

curtisroberts said...

What a remarkable photographer Russell Lee was. How lucky we are to have his images as part of a "national treasure". I guess what stays with me more than anything else in these photos is the dignity of the subjects in all respects in the face of such indignity. As always in old photos and movies, you wonder how their lives turned out and who remembers them now.

manik sharma said...

tom,
woowwwww.....the grapes of wrath has come to life in these pictures...thanku sharing this treasure tom....my visualizations have just been strengthened....Okies they were called...

i can't help but recall the preacher from the book and can never seem to forget this
" I wouldn't pray just for a old man that's dead, 'cause he's all right. If I was to pray, I'd pray for folks that's alive and don't know which way to turn"

TC said...

Curtis and Manik, we've been talking here this morning about these scenes and the people in them.

The persevering industry in trying to keep things relatively tidy, to make things work somehow, to use every inch of precious available space or structure (that outdoor kitchen looks as though it had been designed by Louise Nevelson), is admirable -- and poignant.

And also, as A. points out, even more powerful, the fact that the people in these scenes appear to "have each other", the ultimate rock of human support.

Very impressive.

As, too, the care and attention to detail (with of course scant materials) taken in constructing the fine hen house and even finer pigeon cote -- and above all, the little bird house atop the privy -- also an evidence of enduring pride in taking care. That's always the last thing to go, maybe.

Possibly should say, too, though, that a couple of the shots -- the mother fanning her baby in particular -- stuck in the mind in a different way. Here were people living like this in a state that made some few people (mostly elsewhere) rich by oil wells, just as I suppose in the same century people in Africa were living pretty much like this in states that were making some people (mostly very far away) rich by diamond mines.

Julia said...

It's painful to admit that today many, many, many people here in Argentina live in even much worst conditions.
Impressive pictures.

aditya said...

Great pictures. The significance of the uselessness they who have less know more of.

They had each other too as you point out. That is what was/is important too.

Julia,

My country too has plenty similar plain admissions to make.

Coincidentally, I had been listening to this while reading this post.

Julia said...

Beautiful soundtrack to revisit Tom's post, Aditya. Thank you!

TC said...

Julia, Aditya, it is always encouraging to hear your sweet voices.

The sorrows of the peoples are universal, across the continents and the epochs. The Zimmer music reminds us of that, in its grave majesty. We can never be reminded too often. These are the reminders of our common humanness, more easily forgotten now, perhaps, than ever before.

Tara Tucker said...

In the last year I've been researching my dad's family history, which includes the Mays Avenue Camp. Dad grew up not far from here at the corner of I-44 & SE 15th St. In his preserved family belongings is a letter addressed to my great-grandpa and the address is simply "May Avenue Camp." I knew our roots were humble but was so moved to see in these photos just what it was like. It makes me even prouder of my dad and his family that they stuck it out through tough times and became good providers for their families and good citizens of their communities. It further instills my belief that it doesn't matter where you started that with hard work and determination and the provision of the Good Lord, anything is possible.

TC said...

Tara,

You should indeed be proud of your dad. It was that kind of strength and courage and self-sacrifice which allowed families and communities to survive very hard times.

I look around myself these days, sometimes, hoping to see that same brave face, that persevering vision. (Don't much see it, but perhaps I'm too old, and just missing something.)

Swell to hear from you, in any case, as these photos were hunted down principally to provide a link back into that past for those whose roots remain there. And that of course means you... and a slender few others I would reckon.

95763804-dd4b-11e2-b129-000bcdcb2996 said...

The name of the street is May Avenue, and the camps along the North Canadian River in Oklahoma City, at May and Pennsylvania, which was a larger camp, continued to exist, though improved from what the photos show, until the residents were evicted and the camps bulldozed in the late 1970's. They were known to us as the Community Camps or Sandtown, or Mulligan's Flats, or simply the Flats. The river, along the North and South banks from Villa/Agnew, past Portland was home to the dump grounds, which was largely open area. One dump, which became a commercial operation in the 50's, was the site of a rather large, underground tire fire in the early 70's... It was thought, at the time, that the fire, completely concealed from view, except the smoke, would never be extinguished. The fire department, had hoses there for quite a spell. It not only was finally put out, but later in the 1990's, the City, not only extended SW 15th over the site, and constructed a City Garage on the rather spongy site.
A contractor, who was hired from out of state to do the street job, was amazed, when I told him he was trying to build a road over a landfill, which had never been fully compacted ! They finally did get the job done, however.
You can still see broken glass, from all the old bottles that were tossed out in this area, when any dirt work is done near I-40 or I-44 close to the river.

TC said...

Thank you very much for that, unknown friend.

It was the great Russ Lee, on the road with his wife Jean, who was responsible for this portfolio, and it would be my guess that it was Jean who did the original captions -- but of course those captions would have later been "edited" by office staff back in DC. It's the "edited" captions which now accompany the photos in the FSA archive at the Library of Congress. (To guess further, maybe "Mays" was how some of the people there spoke of the place, then?)