- On the Writings from 1952 page, we added an excerpt from “Marxian Socialism in the United States” by Daniel Bell, from the book Socialism in American Life, ed. by Donald Drew Egbert (1952, Princeton University Press), which provided a pretty colorful description of the rebellion and its context.
- “Five little known facts about Oklahoma’s Black History” by Richard Hall in The Oklahoman (February 27, 2015)
Black Oklahomans found themselves involved in a couple of infamous rebellions and skirmishes in the early 1900s: the Smoked Meat Rebellion, and the Green Corn Rebellion.
In 1909 a group of Creek freedman — blacks who were descendants of slaves owned by the Creek people — attempted to fend off authorities when they (and/or the Creeks) were accused of stealing meat from a white farmer. The local sheriff formed a posse and, in the end, two deputies and one black freedman were dead, and another 42 blacks were arrested. This event is known as the Smoked Meat Rebellion, or the Crazy Snake Rebellion.
The Green Corn Rebellion began thanks to two things: the 1917 Selective Draft Act and the poor farmers in southeast Oklahoma who sided with the Socialist Party in hopes it would improve their lives. Many of the younger farmers were black, and feared they were most susceptible to the draft. So they — along with European-Americans and Native Americans — formed a group that caused general mayhem around communities in southeast Oklahoma. They then grew to nearly 1,000 strong and had plans to march to Washington D.C., living off the land as they did so, saying they’d eat the “green corn” along the way.
The rebellion really didn’t go anywhere because someone within the group snitched to the authorities and the rebels were intercepted before they even got out of Pontotoc County.
Added today to the page: 1920-1916 Responses and Reflections to the GCR
- “How War Horse Skips Over the Greatest Moral Drama of WWI: The film had a disappointing night at the Oscars. It also leaves out the anti-war history of World War I” by Adam Hochschild in Mother Jones (Feb. 27, 2012)
Yet curiously, for all the spectacle of boy and horse, thundering cavalry charges, muddy trenches, and wartime love and loss, the makers of War Horse, Downton Abbey, and—I have no doubt—the similar productions we’ll soon be watching largely skip over the greatest moral drama of those years of conflict, one that continues to echo in our own time of costly and needless wars. They do so by leaving out part of the cast of characters of that moment. The First World War was not just a battle between rival armies, but also a powerful, if one-sided, battle between those who assumed the war was a noble crusade and those who thought it absolute madness.
The war’s opponents went to jail in many countries. There were more than 500 conscientious objectors imprisoned in the United States in those years, for example, plus others jailed for speaking out against joining the conflict. Eugene V. Debs had known prison from his time as a railway union leader, but he spent far longer behind bars—more than two years—for urging American men to resist the draft. Convicted of sedition, he was still in his cell at the federal penitentiary in Atlanta in November 1920 when, long after the war ended, he received nearly a million votes as the Socialist candidate for President.
One American protest against the war turned to tragedy when, in 1917, Oklahoma police arrested nearly 500 draft resisters—white, black, and Native American—taking part in what they called the Green Corn Rebellion against “a rich man’s war, poor man’s fight.” Three were killed and many injured.
War resisters were also thrown in jail in Germany and Russia. But the country with the largest and best organized anti-war movement—and here’s where the creators of those film and TV costume dramas so beloved by Anglophile American audiences miss a crucial opportunity—was Britain.
The main reason opposition to the war proved relatively strong there was simple enough: In 1914, the island nation had not been attacked. German invaders marched into France and Belgium, but Germany hoped Britain would stay out of the war. And so did some Britons. When their country joined the fighting on the grounds that Germany had violated Belgian neutrality, a vocal minority continued to insist that jumping into a quarrel among other countries was a disastrous mistake.
Posted on the page: 1920-2016 Responses and Reflections on the GCR
“The Green Corn Rebellion in Oklahoma: events of Aug. 3, 1917” – by Bertha Hale White, Published in The New Day (Milwaukee), v. 4, no. 9, whole no. 91 (March 4, 1922), pg. 68, reprinted by MarxistHistory.org (PDF Download) – Editor’s note: This article is especially interesting as it was written only 4-1/2 years after the rebellion, and while some of the rebels were likely still in prison. The author was Bertha Hale White, who at the time was the Assistant National Secretary of the Socialist Party of America.
Excerpt: News of conscription roused the spirit of rebellion and the Working Class Union began to hold secret meetings to discuss what they should do. They did not believe the people of the country would tamely submit to the violation of the pledges which had resulted in the re-election of President Wilson. And they decided they would not accept that violation. They agreed to hide their boys from the draft officers and to prevent troops from coming into the Seminole country. On Aug. 3 , nearly 4 months after the declaration of war with Germany, about 150 men were camped on a hilltop near the little town of Sasakwa. They were there with the definite intention of offering resistance to any attempt to take their boys and induct them into the military service. An alarm was sent out through the community, and about 50 men gathered to oppose this demonstration, which is now known throughout the section as the “Green Corn Rebellion.”
The “WCUs,” as they were called, had the advantage of position and numbers. They were armed — pistols and squirrel rifles and ancient shotguns in the main, it is true. But they could have annihilated the opposing forces. The men had to climb the hill. They were without protection and had to make their advance in the open. But those men were not the men who had brought war and the draft to America. The rebels knew these men — they were the postmaster, the storekeeper, the druggist — people they had known for years and against whom they had no personal grudges. They could not fire upon their friends and neighbors — so they threw down their arms and quietly submitted to arrest.
All of those who had participated in the uprising were soon under arrest, and the net swept in others who had belonged to the organization, but had had no part in the rebellion. In all, nearly 300 men were involved, and when the case came to trial at Ardmore the following October 175 men received sentences ranging from 30 days in jail to 10 years at Leavenworth prison.
“War is the Health of the State,” chapter 14 of A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn – Editor’s Note: The book can be purchased from several books sellers but is also available in an online-only version that was said to be authorized by the author (but not the publishing company) before his death.
Excerpt: In Oklahoma, the Socialist party and the IWW had been active among tenant farmers -and sharecroppers who formed a “Working Class Union.” At a mass meeting of the Union, plans were made to destroy a railroad bridge and cut telegraph wires in order to block military enlistments. A march on Washington was planned for draft objectors throughout the country. (This was called the Green Corn Rebellion because they planned to eat green corn on their march.) Before the Union could carry out its plans, its members were rounded up and arrested, and soon 450 individuals accused of rebellion were in the state penitentiary. Leaders were given three to ten years in jail, others sixty days to two years.