CCC, Civilian Conservation Corps

cover of CCC manualIt’s ironic that the first “C” in the CCC refers to the “Civilian” Conservation Corps because the program was actually run by the U.S. Army. The CCC was a public works program that put more than three million young men and adults to work building roads and trails in parks, building conservation dams, building campgrounds, planting trees, draining swamps, replanting grazing land, renovating historic buildings and stringing telephone lines.

ApetzDelbertDelbert Apetz joined the CCC in York and was sent to Pawnee City, Nebraska, for his induction and training. Like other CCC enrollees around the country, Delbert was housed in a military style barracks. Most enlistees began with a five-day boot camp at a military base where they got physical training and orientation. Discipline at most camps was military too, with marching, formations, KP duty and “lights out” orders at night.

Almost all of the people in the camps in Nebraska worked on soil conservation projects. Delbert remembers the experience as hard work, but rewarding. “Nobody seemed to complain down there, because you had a place to sleep, a place to eat – which was pretty skimpy a lot of times at home. So, no, I never complained about it.”

DueDelbert remembers being paid $15 a month, but other sources say that the national wage was $25 a month. What all agree on is that CCC enrolees – like Delbert – only got to keep $5 of their monthly wages. The rest went back home to the families.

Carla Due (right) says that the check from the government “was sure the rescue of a lot of families.”

By all accounts, the CCC was one of the most popular New Deal programs. It may have set a record for the short time between idea and implementation.

  • FDR took office on March 4, 1933. He immediately called Congress into special session.
  • The CCC bill was introduced in both houses on March 27.
  • The bill passed both houses on March 31, four days later.
  • FDR signed it, appointed an administrator and brought in the military.
  • The first enrollee was inducted April 7, 1933, just 37 days after FDR’s inauguration.

Native Americans and African Americans were also included in the CCC. In all, there were 80,000 Native Americans who joined the CCC and worked on conservation projects on some of the land that they had lost through treaty or war.

There were also 250,000 African Americans who enrolled in the CCC. Black membership in the CCC was limited to 10 percent of the overall membership, roughly the percentage of blacks in the national population. However, African Americans were actually worse off during the Depression, so this race-based quota was a form of discrimination.

ccc boys surveying In the early years of the CCC, some camps were integrated, but this provoked complaints from some local communities. So, in July, 1935, the integrated camps were disbanded and 150 all-black companies were set up – despite the fact that the CCC law contained a clause outlawing discrimination based on race. The CCC Director, Robert Fechner, justified he decision by saying, “segregation is not discrimination.” Many others in FDR’s administration disagreed, but the segregation of CCC camps stood.

At most camps, the days were long and hard. But in the evening, there was time for games, education classes, and even plays and variety shows put on by the enrollees. Most of those who adjusted to the military discipline re-enlisted when their six months was up. The men could stay in the CCC up to two years.

By 1941 when it was disbanded, the CCC had employed almost 3.5 million men. Some estimates are that they planted 2.5 billion trees, protected 40 million acres of farmland from erosion, drained 248,000 acres of swamp land, replanted almost a million acres of grazing land, built 125,000 miles of roads, fought fires, and created 800 state parks and 52,000 acres of campgrounds. But the biggest legacy of the CCC may have been the hope it provided both the young men and their families.

Written by Bill Ganzel of the Ganzel Group. First written and published in 2003.

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