Often the scene of tumbling farm prices, farmer indebtedness, and bankruptcy, accompanied by industrial labor problems of unemployment and declining wages, Oklahoma provided the setting for a union of farm and labor agitation for political action in the 1920s. Original impetus came from Luther Langston, of the State Federation of Labor in Oklahoma City, a three-time candidate for Congress on the Socialist ticket and a member of the Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union. In May 1921 he and other farmer-labor leaders decided to organize to capture the Democratic Party to enact favorable legislation.
A conference in Shawnee chaired by John A. Simpson, president of the Farmers' Union, was attended by Edgar Fenton, president of the State Federation of Labor, George Wilson, former professor at Oklahoma A&M, Jesse B. Tosh, member of the state Constitutional Convention, Clayton H. Hyde, vice president of the Farmers' Union, and Earl Witt, representative of the Railroad Brotherhoods. Socialists in attendance included Oscar Ameringer, Victor Berger, John Hagel, Fred W. Holt, and Patrick S. Nagle. These and other farmer-labor groups combined to form the official Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League in September 1921. Calling for cooperative laws, state ownership of grain elevators, flour mills, packing plants, and mines, free textbooks, broader worker compensation laws, eight-hour work days, and minimum wages, the group organized to elect the Democratic ticket in the gubernatorial race in 1922.
The Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League was successful in its campaigns. L. N. Shelton, editor of the league newspaper, the Reconstructionist, backed Oklahoma City mayor John C. “Our Jack” Walton, who won the primary over Judge Thomas H. Owen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Robert H. Wilson. "Our Jack" won, although he admitted that he did not know what the league platform stood for and "didn't care a damn! I'm for it all the way."
The wildly successful Walton celebrated a majority victory over John Fields, editor of the Oklahoma Farmer, but abandoned the Farmer-Labor Reconstruction League afterwards. Losing his popularity, Walton was impeached within the year, and the league faded away.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: BIBLIOGRAPHY: Oscar Ameringer, If You Don't Weaken: The Autobiography of Oscar Ameringer (New York: H. Holt and Co., 1940). Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 24 February 1922. Gilbert C. Fite, “The Nonpartisan League in Oklahoma,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 24 (Summer 1946). Gilbert C. Fite, “Oklahoma's Reconstruction League: An Experiment in Farmer-Labor Politics,” The Journal of Southern History 13 (November 1947). Howard L. Meredith, “The Agrarian Reform Press in Oklahoma, 1899-1922,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 50 (Spring 1972). James C. Milligan, Oklahoma Farmers' Union: A History of the First 91 Years (Oklahoma City: Cottonwood Publications, 1997).
James C. Milligan
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