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America's History in the Making

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Photograph of Arvin Migratory Labor Camp

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W.F. Baxter, “Migratory Labor Camps,” The Quartermaster Review (July 1937). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Creator Quartermaster Review
Context In 1937, the Farm Security Administration opened the Arvin Migratory Labor Camp in an attempt to remedy the sanitation and public-health problems among California’s 250,000 migrant workers. It also hoped to alleviate the financial costs placed on local and state governments.
Audience Readers of the Quartermaster Review
Purpose The goal of labor camps was to provide a safe place with a community atmosphere in which migrants were responsible for running the camps’ activities, governance, and court sessions.

Historical Significance

C. B. Baldwin served as an assistant to Henry Wallace, the secretary of agriculture until 1945. Baldwin fought for federal funding for migrant labor camps. The exchange between Baldwin and Congressman Elliott shows the changing role of the federal government: “I was on the stand during one of these hearings. A congressman, Al Elliott of California, was cross-questioning me. I had all the information, photographs—the plight of the migrant workers. He argued against the camp. The real reason the big farmers didn’t want them built is that they were places where the migrants got together and organize[d]…When Elliott finished his slambang cross-examination, I said, ‘You haven’t convinced me not to build the camp. I’m issuing instructions for it to be started.’ He stormed across the room. He was a boxer, about six-three, weighing about 210. I weighed in at 155. (Laughs) He hollered, ‘You don’t represent the people of my district! I represent them!’ I said, ‘I have a national constituency. And a very important part of that are the migrant workers of this big country. I’m telling you again, Congressman Elliott, I’m gonna build this camp.’ We built it.”

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