Why remember the Green Corn Rebellion?

Disclaimer: We are sharing a wide range of perspectives and opinions on the history, legacy and lessons of the Green Corn Rebellion, hence, it is important to note that views expressed in content published/linked on this website do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or supporters of this website. — Also please remember that new content is posted almost daily, so check back often or follow us on Facebook to find out what is new.

100 years ago, in early August 1917, between 800-1000 people (including impoverished African-American, European-American and Native Americans), gathered at the farm of Joe and John Spears in Sasakawa, Oklahoma, to plan a march upon Washington to stop the draft (conscription for military service) and end US involvement in what would later be called World War I. But this march didn’t happen, as word had already spread of the plans for this march to the authorities.

Local and state authorities moved quickly to stop this movement, but it wasn’t a shooting war until shots were fired by some of the rebels at the Seminole County sheriff and his deputy near the Little River (near Sasakawa) on Thursday, August 2, 1917, and not longer after that, telephone lines were cut and attempt was to blow up a key railroad bridge.

The truth of the details of what happened after this point is shrouded in mystery and conflicting eye-witness statements, but what can be said with some degree of accuracy is that local and state authorities, as well as hundreds of members of armed possees, some coming from as far away as Oklahoma City, converged and crushed the rebellion. Three people were killed, and 450 were arrested. Of those arrested, 266 were released with charges being filed. Of the remaining 184 participants who wre charged, 150 were either convicted or pleaded guilty, receiving jail and prison terms ranging from 60 days to 10 years. But most served far less than the original sentences with the final five held at the Federal prison in Leaveworth, Kansas in Feburary 1922.

The aftermath of the rebellion was a radical change in Oklahoma politics, which included a severe crackdown on the Socialist Party of Oklahoma (which had not been involved in the Green Corn Rebellion) and the Industrial Workers of the World. There was also a crackdown on all forms of dissent against the draft and World War I, and a large scale orientation of Oklahoma politics towards the right — a major change in a state which had once had the strongest and most active Socialist Party in the USA.

In the years since the Green Corn Rebellion, this story has been either laughed at (as an example of the early naivete of Oklahomans) or ignored. High School Oklahoma History classes have talked about the events of this era, but often in a biased and/or cursory manner, and it has largely been out of the public discourse.

This is why a loose committee of folks has decided to create this website. We want to tell the story, but also go further and explore how others have told the story through our history and encourage members of the public, but especially fellow Okies, to reflect on this event and share those reflections in whatever form seems best— essays, poems, songs, visual art, academic papers, etc. We also hope to spark a series of events across Oklahoma in which ordinary folks can discuss and remember what happened.

One big task we have is to try to gather as much archival materials about the GCR as possible, which will include newspaper clippings, etc. Thankfully this material is in the public domain given its age, but we still have to find it. So please check back often as we will be adding content on a very regular basis.

Lots of views will be expressed and some of them will be ones that we (either collectively or as individuals) might disagree with. We are ok with disagreement and discussion and hope you as the reader can as well. But what are not ok with is forgetting this historical moment when oppressed people took action to protect their rights to not fight in a war they didn’t believe in. This story needs to be told.

The following words stand out an explanation of why we insist on telling this misunderstood and ignored story. The words are from an elderly Seminole-Muscogee Creek woman whose uncle had been imprisoned after the rebellion:

“The full moon of late July, early August it was, the Moon of the Green Corn. It was not easy to persuade our poor white and black brothers and sisters to rise up. We told them that rising up, standing up, whatever the consequences, would inspire future generations. Our courage, our bravery would be remembered and copied. That has been the Indian way for centuries, since the invasions. Fight and tell the story so that those who come after or their descendants will rise up once again. It may take a thousand years, but that is how we continue and eventually prevail.” – (as quoted by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz in “Growing up Okie – and Radical” in Alternative Oklahoma: Contrarian Views of the Sooner State (2007, ed. Davis D. Joyce)

We seek to honor the wish of this elder by telling the story in the hopes that it will inspire creative thought and action. The struggles of the future may or may not look like the struggles of the Green Corn Rebel of 1917, but those who struggle in the future will benefit from learning about the struggles of the past. And that is why we are committed to telling this story and reflecting upon it.

– James M. Branum, one of the editors of this website