April 14th, 2015 is the eightieth anniversary of Black Sunday, arguably the worst day of the Dust Bowl era. Dust storms that had plagued North America for a decade reached a terrible crescendo on that day, with dust clouds taller than the tallest buildings enveloping and blanketing Oklahoma, Texas, Colorado and many other places.
PBS’ American Experience describes the experience of one family who was caught traveling on that day as a Black Blizzard approached:
Ed and Ada Phillips of Boise City, and their six-year-old daughter, had to stop on their way to seek shelter in an abandoned adobe hut. There they joined ten other people already huddled in the two-room ruin, sitting for four hours in the dark, fearing that they would be smothered.
In his memoir, Farming the Dust Bowl, Kansas farmer Lawrence Svobida describes an approaching dust storm:
At other times a cloud is seen to be approaching from a distance of many miles. Already it has the banked appearance of a cumulus cloud, but it is black instead of white and it hangs low, seeming to hug the earth. Instead of being slow to change its form, it appears to be rolling on itself from the crest downward. As it sweeps onward, the landscape is progressively blotted out. Birds fly in terror before the storm, and only those that are strong of wing may escape. The smaller birds fly until they are exhausted, then fall to the ground, to share the fate of the thousands of jack rabbits which perish from suffocation
The northern plains states and Canadian provinces suffered from these dust storms for years, a subject we’ve covered before. The Farm Security Administration employed a number of photographers to document the effects of the Dust Bowl, and we’ve posted the work of several who photographed North Dakota, including Arthur Rothstein’s photos of Dust Bowl Grassy Butte, and The Grashhopper Plagues, plus Russell Lee’s photos in this piece.
Please take a look and take a moment to remember those affected by Black Sunday.
Troy Larson is an author, photographer, gentleman adventurer (debatable) from Fargo, North Dakota, and co-founder of Ghosts of North Dakota. @NorthDakotaTroy