Sanora Babb’s long-hidden novel Whose Names Are Unknown tells an intimate story of the High Plains farmers who fled drought dust storms during the Great Depression. Written with empathy for the farmers’ plight, this powerful narrative is based upon the author’s firsthand experience.
This clear-eyed and unsentimental story centers on the fictional Dunne family as they struggle to survive and endure while never losing faith in themselves. In the Oklahoma Panhandle, Milt, Julia, their two little girls, and Milt’s father, Konkie, share a life of cramped circumstances in a one-room dugout with never enough to eat. Yet buried in the drudgery of their everyday life are aspirations, failed dreams, and fleeting moments of hope. The land is their dream.
The Dunne family and the farmers around them fight desperately for the land they love, but the droughts of the thirties force them to abandon their fields. When they join the exodus to the irrigated valleys of California, they discover not the promised land but an abusive labor system arrayed against destitute immigrants. The system labels all farmers like them as worthless “Okies” and earmarks them for beatings and worse when hardworking men and women, such as Milt and Julia, object to wages so low they can’t possibly feed their children. The informal communal relations these dryland farmers knew on the High Plains gradually coalesce into a shared determination to resist. Realizing that a unified community is their best hope for survival, the Dunnes join with their fellow workers and begin the struggle to improve migrant working conditions through democratic organization and collective protest. Download and start listening now!