02. Hangknot, Slipknot
(Woody Guthrie/TRO-Ludlow Music, Inc., BMI)
Track 2 – Hangknot, Slipknot (MASTER MA 115)
Still living in Hanover House at the corner of 43rd Street and Sixth Avenue in New York City – and just days after he wrote “This Land Is Your Land,” Guthrie recalled grim stories he had heard as a boy in Okemah, tales of black folk lynched for stepping out of line, of offending the man,Mister Charlie.
In 1910, two years before he was born, “the good people” of Okemah and surrounding parts – that is, the whites – kidnapped a 13-year-old black youth who had shot and killed a deputy sheriff.When the boy’s mother sought to protect him, the mob swept her up as well.Mother and son were lynched from a bridge spanning the Canadian River, seven miles south of Okemah, where Guthrie would be born. (A famous photograph of the bodies hanging from the bridge survives.)
Thirty years later, the boy who had grown up in segregated Okemah, who had imbibed the unthinking prejudices of a segregated South, who so casually used the word “nigger,” now had come to a different understanding. He had traveled through the richest of farm country and tallied the misery doled out equally to poor whites and poorer blacks. He now understood it was not race, but economic status that divided his people, and himself, from the others. Poor was poor, regardless of skin color.
If it was a hard lesson to learn, he learned it well. The result was this remembrance “dedicated to the many negro mothers, fathers, and sons alike, that was lynched and hanged under the bridge of the Canadian River….” (Quoted from Dave Marsh and Harold Leventhal, Pastures of Plenty (New York, 1990), p. 37.)