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Publication

From Praha to Prague: Assimilation and ethnic identity in an American farm town, Prague, Oklahoma, 1891-1930

Smith, Philip D.
Abstract
Scope and Method of Study: The purpose of this study was to examine the experiences of an immigrant group living in a rural environment in the midst of a larger native-born population. The group chosen were Czechs, who settled in the southeastern corner of Lincoln County, Oklahoma after participating in the 1891 Sac and Fox Land Run. The principal sources were manuscript census records, local newspapers, and various town records such as church membership rolls and baptismal records, cemetery, and the minutes and account books of the Bohemian Hall. In addition to primary sources, extensive secondary research is included in the study.
Findings and Conclusions: This work elucidated a little-researched phenomenon: the dilemmas of an immigrant group living amongst a larger primarily native-born white population in a small, somewhat isolated farm town. A primary assertion of the work is that the Czechs of Prague, Oklahoma underwent cultural and structural assimilation more rapidly than Czechs in urban environments or Czechs living in homogeneous rural areas. The reasons for this were many, including the frontier environment of the community which forced the residents to cooperate in order for the town to succeed. Other rationales for the rapid acculturation included the size and rural location of Prague and the fact that the town also included an African American community, which absorbed the brunt of discrimination. A sub-thesis of the dissertation is that despite the quick acculturation, the Czech newcomers established a permanent presence in the small farming town on the edge of the Great Plains. The ethnic group maintained their identity as Bohemians, not in the multicultural sense whereby they steadfastly held to their native tongue and native ways, nor in a symbolic sense in which the only remaining vestiges are public festivals and kolache cafes, but in a much deeper, existential sense they remained Czech; they preserved and passed on an internal sense of distinctiveness.
Date
2010-05