Half a century later, they still came

man_carwebThe Dust Bowl migrants of the 1930s mostly entered the San Joaquin Valley by way of Tehachapi, moving west along California Highway 58 and California Highway 184 (though they weren’t designated and named state highways until 1964) and Edison Highway. As best I can tell from my research, the roads existed, they just had different names and weren’t as well developed as they are now. Everybody’s familiar with the visuals, shown in John Ford’s film and vividly described in John Steinbecks “The Grapes of Wrath,” or more realistically, documented in raw and stunning clarity by the photographers of the Farm Security Administration, the greatest documentary photo project in American history. What most of America didn’t realize, however, was half a century later, the scenes of extreme poverty and desperate living conditions still played out on that same path east of Bakersfield in some of America’s richest farm land, specifically along Edison Highway and its railroad tracks. Throughout most of the 80s and well into the 90s, Edison Highway was dotted with families living out of broken down trailers, pickup trucks and cars, their children playing along the tracks and highway, and men begging for any work they could find. I shot this photo of a man who was living out of his car cooking breakfast on Edison Highway, near Weedpatch Highway, likely in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

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