Dust Storm Approaching Stratford, Texas, April 18, 1935; courtesy the United States Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, George E. Marsh Collection

Black Blizzards

Enormous dust storms began to hit in 1932. Winds traveling as quickly as 60 miles per hour kicked up giant clouds of dirt and dust that destroyed crops and stripped the poor, dry topsoil from the farms. Called “Black Blizzards,” these thousand-foot-high dust clouds turned day into night as they tore up everything in their path and buried houses and cars.

A letter from an Oklahoma woman, later published in Reader’s Digest magazine, recalls June 1935:

“In the dust-covered desolation of our No Man’s Land here, wearing our shade hats, with handkerchiefs tied over our faces and Vaseline in our nostrils, we have been trying to rescue our home from the wind-blown dust which penetrates wherever air can go. It is almost a hopeless task, for there is rarely a day when at some time the dust clouds do not roll over. ‘Visibility’ approaches zero and everything is covered again with a silt-like deposit which may vary in depth from a film to actual ripples on the kitchen floor.”

Government Agricultural Policy — Hardship for Small Farmers

The U.S. government also played a significant role in making it harder for tenant farmers and farmworkers to find employment. Congress passed the Agricultural Adjustment Act in 1933. The goal of the legislation was to stabilize farmers’ wages by paying a subsidy to owners of farms to plant fewer crops. While this helped some farm owners, it was devastating to many tenant farmers who, unable to raise crops, were evicted from the land.

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