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,
(Source: Oklahoma Historical Society)