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The door crept open and the timid young man stretched his head inside, shifting his eyes around the room. Others shoved against his back, pushing him through and as he stood, his voice joined the chant echoing against the wall: "No to war! No to war!"

The swell of adrenaline encircled each man; the crowd multiplying as the hot August evening melted into night. Their youthful faces radiated hope but many of their eyes reflected anger: anger at authority and anger at their country.

Leaders evolved, moving to the platform, professing the wrongs of war. Shouting defiance to the American Government, protest signs were built and the inflated crowd moved into the streets. Cars rumbled through the sleepy village of Seminole, Oklahoma, now bringing men of all ages. Men of different backgrounds, bonding to form a strong brotherhood in the fight against one cause: American's involvement in World War 1.

The dramatic story of the Green Corn Rebellion manifested the strong antiwar sentiment within the state of Oklahoma in 1917. The discontent led to an uprising of a large mob of protesters in several northeastern counties of Oklahoma, seizing control of local institutions with the determination to walk to Washington D.C. in protest of the war. The mob was eventually dismantled by law enforcement, but their story provides a backdrop to my own grandfather: a World War 1 objector.

The discovery of my grandfather's World War 1 draft card brought excitement and extreme curiosity. Claiming he had grounds against the draft; Glenn Beatty stated he "was not particularly sympathetic to the Allied Armies." The statement was bold and clearly political; particularly at a time when patriotism and loyalty was cast upon American citizens in hopes of increasing support for the war.

With a hunger to learn everything I could about the environment my grandfather was living in, I searched historical papers of Oklahoma in 1917. I discovered that the state I live in today has little resemblance to the state my grandfather lived in almost a hundred years ago.

In the early 1900's, the Oklahoma Socialist Party was ranked as "one of the top three state socialist organizations in America." The party was a strong force against America's involvement in the war; banding with the Oklahoma farmers and unions. And the uneasiness and dissent against the war swelled among young Oklahoma men, percolating into an antiwar protest: The Green Corn Rebellion.

Adding fuel to the undercurrent of discontent, the National Defense Act of 1916, directed each state to develop a Council of Defense. These small committees were specifically formed to create patriotism and loyalty. But instead, dissenters were often bullied, beaten and jailed for refusing to sign loyalty -pledge cards: Oppressive tactics more reflective of dictatorships than democracy.

I cannot say that Glenn Beatty walked the streets with war protesters in August 1917. And although only half of the citizens of Oklahoma willingly signed loyalty pledge cards distributed by the Council of Defense, I have no evidence he refused to sign.

But learning the history of the environment surrounding my grandfather, gives life and meaning to his story.

If you truly want to understand and write your ancestor's story then immerse yourself in their history and their world. Search publications at your local historical society and gain a real knowledge of the times they lived.

Because their world, was most certainly very different than your own.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Source: Oklahoma Historical Society)

 
 
A question was recently posed to me by a family member that left me with even further questions to ponder, as I review my ancestral documents piled in unorganized kitchen drawers. The question was this: 'What was the most surprising information discovered in my years of family research?'

My quick answer to such an unexpected question made me reflect on what I presented. I remembered the moment of surprise, excitement and shock when I finally found evidence of my maternal grandfather, Glenn Beatty. Obviously I had known of Glenn all of my life but he had been only a mystery to me, as he had died early in life when my mother was only six years old. Over the years, little was left of Glenn's life other than two or three pictures and a few memories passed on from the perspective of a young child, my mother. So seeing his handwriting on his World War 1 draft card threw me into a fit of excitement. But that was not the answer to the question posed and it certainly is not the end of the story.

When I first discovered my grandfather's World War 1 draft card, I quickly printed it off during my fit of elation and pulled out the magnifying glass to view his handwriting closer. And as I moved the glass across the document, I found a written answer squeezed onto the small line after the question: 'Do you feel you have an exemption to the draft (explain grounds)?' My grandfather's scribbled response was : 'Yes. Not in particular sympathy with the allied armies.' I stopped and stared long at his statement. I sat the paper down and then looked again and with puzzled amazement, I began reviewing other World War 1 draft cards found on the Internet. Many men made claims of exemption due to the responsibility of their wife and children; however, none were so bold to make such an inflammatory political statement.

The discovery of my grandfather's remark has lead me to research America's attitude toward World War 1. When the European war broke out in 1914, Americans responded with ambivalence and isolationism. The predominant thinking was that our country was not a part of the European conflict and should remain neutral to the war. This was even more evident in Oklahoma, my families' home and the state my grandfather and his parents migrated to during the Oklahoma Oil Boom. I find the subject even more enthralling when I discover that the primary adversaries of the war, members of the Socialist Party, was an extremely active political party in Oklahoma in the early part of the 20th century.

Oklahoma was an agrarian state and in economic despair as a result of the European war. The Oklahoma farmers and organized labor, fiercely opposed to the war, helped elevate the Socialist Party in Oklahoma to the third largest political party. But in 1917, when America joined the war effort, a shift in thinking evolved and Americans including Oklahomans began to support the war. Organizations were formed to promote patriotism and there was a formalized effort to identify citizens against the war, some facing ostracism and mob violence. Interest in the Socialist Party faded and  the organization was dissolved.

So left with this revelation about my grandfather, what can I surmise? Was he a member of the then popular Socialist Party? Or was he just one individual faced with answering a simple question that could have grave consequences, however it was interpreted. And do we judge his answer with today's value system, a culture that has great respect for men with military eagerness and patriotism. We can and should only look at our ancestors through the magnifying glass of the times they lived. They were products of their own culture, not ours, and seeing them in any other way is unfair to them and also to our heritage.

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
(Source: Oklahoma Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.)