Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Bartlesville as a Company Town

In general, a company town is one in which a significant portion of the economy depends on one corporation. Usually that corporation also owns other businesses that provide goods and services to the residents and may also sponsor cultural and entertainment activities. (Wikipedia names Kohler, Wisconsin as a company town.) Did Bartlesville at the time discussed in the book fit this definition?. The city depended mainly on the Phillips Petroleum Company for its economic health. Phillips also exerted a lot of control in other ways, not only on its employees, but also on the residents of Bartlesville. What are some examples? Many residents became angered when Ruth Brown began participating in desegregation activities. Some employees of Phillips also participated with Brown. So how did Phillips respond to those employees? What was the true motivation behind the actions of Phillips?

5 comments:

ellen said...
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ellen said...

I think Bartlesville definately functioned as a Company Town, at least during Ruth Brown's era. On example from the book, on page 15 speaks to the involvement of Philips in the local government and entertainment. It says, "Philips built the swimming pool and allowed non-Philips people to use it several days a week." I know now most pools are part of the city municipality but I don't know if that was unusual at the time. In any case it is hard to think that segregating the use of a pool by employment is not going a bit overboard. Perhaps by these standards sharing several days a week is generous.

Kristin said...

I agree with Ellen. Bartlesville definitely functioned as a Company Town. Many of Ruth Brown's supporters and those seeking racial equality through the COPD were fired or transferred. Frank Condon, a member of the COPD, "was sent to Phillips Petroleum's 'Siberia,' a move he did not want" (114-115). Anthony Andrews, who questioned the firing of Ruth Brown, "paid for his letter writing and his persistence in monitoring the library board. According to several participants, he was cautioned to be quiet and them fired outright" (117).

Lia said...

I also agree that Bartlesville was a Company Town and wasn't surprised to read the higher-ups in Phillips transferred employees that happened to play roles in civic organizations that the execs might not have tolerated. It was all in the name of maintaining the status quo of "the ideal family center."

Hannah Gray said...

The actions of Phillips Petroleum appear based less on their support for continued segregation, and more on a desperate need to keep calm within the community. Certainly Phillips shouldn't be excused for encouraging the attacks made on Ruth Brown or in its discouragement of integration, but I think the actions of the company stemmed more from a desire to simply keep things quiet. Phillips simply did not like any controversy within the 'perfect family town' and, therefore, was willing to go to great lengths in order to quell the controversy and Ruth Brown's progressive attitude, even going so far as to 'quietly' transfer those employees who supported her activities.