Love and War
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January 1939 must have seemed like a new beginning to progressive Californians. On January 2, Culbert Olson was inaugurated as governor, the first Democrat to hold that office in the twentieth century.1 Immediately after assuming office Olson took the symbolic action of freeing accused Socialist Tom Mooney (who had been imprisoned for over twenty years on almost certainly trumped-up charges) and appointed the radical journalist Carey McWilliams as commissioner of housing and immigration. Political tensions were still high in California, particularly around the question of farm labor. Both McWilliams’s book on California agriculture, Factories in the Fields, and John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath were published in 1939. Once he took office, McWilliams began to investigate and document the living and working conditions of migrant farm workers.2 As one radical labor organizer remembered 1939: “We used to say that when Culbert Olson was elected governor, socialism came to California. It was a joke, of course, but it did make a big difference.… It was a very different atmosphere from before. It was a Culbert Olson atmosphere. It was a Carey McWilliams atmosphere.”3 Although Olson would last only one term as governor—he was defeated by the Republican Earl Warren in 1942 and faced hostility from right-wing legislators throughout his term—his election heartened radicals and liberals alike.
KeywordsCity School American Activity Seed Family Personal Letter Pearl Harbor
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