Thursday, September 09, 2010

Guthrie's Oklahoma birthplace has mixed feelings

(Library of Congress photo)
Tim Murphy, writing for Mother Jones, visits the birthplace of that "rabble-rousing, labor-loving, leftist,"  Woody Guthrie. His hometown is Okemah, Okla., pop. 2,823, "equidistant from Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and the surface of the sun," Murphy writes. Guthrie, composer of "This Land is Your Land," described his hometown thusly: "Okemah was one of the singiest, square-dancingest, drinkingest, yellingest, preachingest, walkingest, talkingest, laughingest, cryingest, shootingest, fist-fightingest, bleedingest, gamblingest, gun, club and razor-carryingest of our ranch towns and farm towns, because it blossomed out into one of our first Oil Boom Towns."

Guthrie's house has been torn down and replaced with local folk art. Teresa Labbe at the Okemah Public Library told Murphy the town is conflicted about Guthrie. "All the old-timers here all thought he was a communist," says Labbe. "Even now, some of the old-timers in town don't like him." A festival intended to honor him was halted by the local American Legion post. The library has a few items belonging to and about Guthrie.

Even though the town has mixed feelings, Murphy says, "I like to think the old balladeer would be pretty satisfied with what his reluctant hometown's done in his name. The monument's full of hometown pride, artistically sound, and, to the end, dutifully subversive." (Read more)

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