As a graduate student, history professor Gregory Hinze was presented with a researcher’s dream—a previously unstudied group of people whose westward migration helped shape a community’s economics, politics and culture. What started as a master’s thesis is now the historical review, Take Hold: The Arkansas Migration to North Central Washington 1935-1960, published this past fall by Wenatchee World Press.
In his work, Hinze compares the westward movement of the southern migrant workers who settled in north central Washington to those who made their way to California.
“What really piqued my interest is that they all came from one small county in the Ozarks,” said Hinze.
The Arkansans hailed from Izard County, Arkansas. They were hard-working country folk with deep ties to home, family and church. Years of drought made it nearly impossible to earn a living farming in their home county. Word spread that there was money to be made harvesting apples in Washington State. Families traveled north to work in the orchards during the growing season and returned home in the winter. For most, this migration would be repeated year after year before the family eventually stayed in Washington.
Through a strong work ethic, they began to integrate themselves deeper into their community. They took jobs in other industries, became business owners, orchardists, teachers, police officers and public officials. By the late 1950s and 1960s the influx of southern migrant workers waned and was replaced by farm workers from Mexico and other countries.
The challenge in researching a previously unstudied group of people is that all research had to be collected firsthand. Hinze spent weeks collecting first-person accounts while camped in a travel trailer in Wenatchee and while traveling through Izard County.
“We have a tendency to think that our age and circumstances are unique and somehow what happened in the past does not matter,” said Hinze. “But history is who we are and we need to know where we come from.”
For the people of Wenatchee, particularly those with Arkansas roots, Hinze’s work is a community treasure. All 350 copies of the first printing sold out within two hours.