Broomcorn Capital

Heritage of Lindsay, Oklahoma

| July/August 2010

  • Field of Broomcorn
    The broomcorn plant was once used for making brooms, until plastic replaced the old-fashioned straw brooms. Nehring

  • Field of Broomcorn

Some of you might remember when brooms were made of straw. Those sold commercially were made from a plant called “broomcorn,” which was actually a type of sorghum. Growing in the field, it looked like cane sorghum, but the seed heads were carried on very long stalks, and it was the long, fibrous seed stalks that became the working end of the broom.

I know this because I had the privilege of growing up in Lindsay, Oklahoma, “The Broomcorn Capital of the World.”

I’m not certain who gave this title to the town of Lindsay, but I would bet the Chamber of Commerce had something to do with it.

(I know at least a couple of our readers hale from Lindsay because you’ve written me before. I lost your addresses when I changed offices, but if you’re reading this and have some insight on Lindsay’s broomcorn history, I’d love to hear from you ... again.)

The downside of broomcorn production was that harvesting was hot, dreary work. As with so many of our undesirable jobs, this one was done with migrant labor, and the whole tenor of our town changed when the “Broomcorn Johnnies” came to town. Suddenly, doors were locked and children weren’t allowed to roam around without supervision after dark. In other times and places, these folks would have been “The Gypsies,” but in our community the scary outsider was the Broomcorn Johnny, with his equally fearsome Broomcorn Sally.

They were filthy, the story went, and they were dangerous. And worst of all, they didn’t speak English. Mexicans, probably, which made them all the more fearsome to many in our very homogenous community. My sister and I, however, got a much different look at the migrant workers, and it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

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