Today, one thinks of the Midwest as a bastion of conservative politics. It was not that long ago, however, when the Midwest had a thriving left-wing populist tradition. This Midwest progressivism included politicians like Eugene Debs, William Jennings Bryan, Robert Lafollette, Hubert Humphrey and Paul Wellstone. It included artists like Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton and 2 time Pulitzer Prize winning editorial cartoonist Daniel Fitzpatrick. It included writers like Carl Sandburg, Sinclair Lewis, Langston Hughes. It included musicians like Woodie Guthrie, Johnny Cash, John Mellencamp.
Here is a trailer to the PBS documentary on Carl Sandburg, the poet, biographer of Abraham Lincoln, musical historian and social activist. When Sandburg was young, he was a socialist. His politics stayed to the Left of the political spectrum all his life, using his poems and writing to advocate for the rights of working people and to fighting for racial equality.
Here is the trailer to a documentary on Eugene Victor Debs, an American Socialist leader and union organizer during the Progressive era, 1900 to 1920. He ran for US President on the Socialist Party ticket (SPA) five times, even once while he was in prison for speaking out against the US involvement in World War 1.
In this 2011 C-Span series, Presidential Historian Richard Norton Smith, Goucher College History Professor Jean Baker and Washington Editor of Real Clear Politics Carl Cannon discuss the importance of Democrat William Jennings Bryan.
Here is a documentary about the regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton’s mural for the 1933 World Fair in Indiana. Benton was a New Deal liberal who wanted his art to represent the everyday people of the country.
Here is a documentary of folk singer Woodie Guthrie,who became a spokesman for a whole generation of downtrodden Americans during the 1930’s with poignant songs like Vigilante Man, Pastures of Plenty and the anthemic This Land is Your Land.
John Mellencamp discussed his seminal album “Scarecrow,” the family farming crisis, his thoughts on music in the mid-80s, and much more in this classic 1985 interview conducted by Mellencamp’s late friend Timothy White. Mellencamp was a liberal rock singer who helped found Farm Aid to help struggling farmers who were seeing their farms face foreclosures.