Johanna Jo Ogden says her inspiration for devoting five years of unpaid work to the Ghadar Party story comes from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center.
When I saw those towers go down, you knew nothing good was going to come from it, she says. People once viewed as neighbors would be seen as enemies, she predicted. I was looking for a way to talk of that, how people become the other.
She sought advice from Kambiz GhaneaBassiri, a Reed College professor who wrote A History of Islam in America. He suggested she look into the Sikhs in the Northwest and the Ghadar Party, something he knew little about but enough to know it was under-researched.
Even most Indian historians ignore Oregons role in the movement, saying it got started in San Francisco. Wikipedia makes no mention of Oregon in its references, though it cites the leadership role of Bhakna.
Ogden scoured the archives of the St. Johns and Astorian newspapers, and found references to Sikh wrestlers, the St. Johns riots and ensuing events. She found hundreds of names in phone directories of the day, made easier because Sikh men typically go by the surname Singh and Sikh women the surname Kaur.
Ogden unearthed an important party of history that was unknown before, says Oregon Historical Quarterly Editor Eliza Canty-Jones. It raises many contemporary issues, Canty-Jones says. What does it mean to be an American? And to have self-rule?
That issue of the journal sold out, and additional copies were printed.
Ogden, who went back to school mid-career to study history, still makes her living as a legal assistant because jobs as historians are hard to come by. But she won the Joel Palmer Award for 2013, an honor for the historical quarterlys top article from the prior year. And a publisher has asked Ogden to turn her work into a book.
The folks in Astoria planned a two-day event built on her findings, and invited her to speak.
And Ogden was invited to speak next March in India, where shell travel for the first time.