Student radicals and hippies—in Oklahoma? Though most scholarship about 1960s-era student activism and the counterculture focuses on the East and West Coasts, Oklahoma’s college campuses did see significant activism and “dropping out.” In Prairie Power, Sarah Eppler Janda fills a gap in the historical record by connecting the activism of Oklahoma students and the experience of hippies to a state and a national history from which they have been absent.
Janda shows that participants in both student activism and retreat from conformist society sought connections to Oklahoma’s past while forging new paths for themselves. She shows that Oklahoma students linked their activism with the grassroots socialist radicalism and World War I–era anti-draft protest of their grandparents’ generation, citing Woody Guthrie, Oscar Ameringer, and the Wobblies as role models. Many movement organizers in Oklahoma, especially those in the University of Oklahoma’s chapter of Students for a Democratic Society and the anti-war movement, fit into a larger midwestern and southwestern activist mentality of “prairie power”: a blend of free-speech advocacy, countercultural expression, and anarchist tendencies that set them apart from most East Coast student activists. Janda also reveals the vehemence with which state officials sought to repress campus “agitators,” and discusses Oklahomans who chose to retreat from the mainstream rather than fight to change it. Like their student activist counterparts, Oklahoma hippies sought inspiration from older precedents, including the back-to-the-land movement and the search for authenticity, but also Christian evangelicalism and traditional gender roles.
Drawing on underground newspapers and declassified FBI documents, as well as interviews the author conducted with former activists and government officials, Prairie Power will appeal to those interested in Oklahoma’s history and the counterculture and political dissent in the 1960s.
“Simply by hunting down and interviewing dozens of the leading figures from the 1960s, Sarah Eppler Janda has done enough to make this an important book. But she offers even more, placing the story of Oklahoma’s student activism and counterculture in national and regional contexts, and telling this story with exemplary economy, superb organization, admirable clarity, and her own intelligent and revealing insight. Prairie Power opens up a hitherto ignored aspect of Oklahoma history.”—David W. Levy, author of The Debate over Vietnam, 2nd edition, and The University of Oklahoma: A History
“The campus activists and hippies Janda describes were not fictional rebels but real people who dared to challenge local, state, and national norms and values. Prairie Power is about the intersection of beliefs—regarding war, classism, xenophobia, and racism—and about how students and their allies who, through face-to-face encounters with their adversaries, became effective twentieth-century social justice provocateurs.”—George Henderson, author of Race and the University: A Memoir