On this day in labor history, the year was 1940.
That was the day The Grapes of Wrath opened in movie theaters.
Adapted from John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, John Ford directed the film, which starred Henry Fonda as Tom Joad.
Pleased with the adaptation, Steinbeck stated, “it pulled no punches and was in fact harsher than the book.”
It is considered one of the greatest films of all time.
Like the book, the film focused on the plight of poor white tenant farmers fleeing Oklahoma for a better life in California
The Joads were devastated by dust bowl conditions, bank foreclosure and mechanization during the Great Depression.
They joined thousands of other families heading west on Route 66 to advertised farm jobs that never materialized.
The family gets stuck in New Deal Resettlement Administration camps and ends up on both sides of agricultural workers struggles.
They narrowly escape starvation and state police.
At the time of its release, The Grapes of Wrath was critically acclaimed for its depiction of the poor.
But the Associated Farmers of California condemned it as Communist propaganda.
Steinbeck visited resettlement camps as part of his research.
Union organizing and police violence unfolded during the Salinas Lettuce Strike, which began as he wrote.
Woody Guthrie’s classic “Ballad of Tom Joad,” soon followed the movie release.
Recent critics contend that Agricultural Adjustment Administration policies were more to blame than banks.
Others assert it presents a sympathetic portrayal of white tenant farmers at the expense of black sharecroppers.
Historian Erik Loomis adds that Steinbeck and Ford both disappear the plight of the non-white, exploited labor already in California.
Nonetheless, the film and movie both provide a deep look into the misery created by the Great Depression.