Contrary to Steinbeck’s libelous portrayal, real-life “Okies” were far from uniformly rural or illiterate. Over half of those who journeyed from Oklahoma to California were from towns or cities, many of them white-collar or semiskilled workers who found a life there—not in shabby, supposedly exploitive agrarian camps (where, Gregory writes, conditions were “not uniformly horrible” anyhow)—but in well-paying, far less backbreaking jobs.
And that migration had begun even before World War I. It peaked, Gregory discovered, not in the Depression but during the economic boom of the 1940s, when countless Americans, not just Okies, rushed to get jobs in California’s World War II defense plants.
Steinbeck had to know all this, but the facts didn’t suit his narrative.