Saturday, March 1, 2014

Some Administrative Housekeeping

© Michael I. Smith, 2014


This is the first post at Forest Army for 2014 and it seems that perhaps it is time to undertake some administrative housekeeping.  Frequent visitors here will know that I maintain a separate – more active – Civilian Conservation Corps blog at the Civilian Conservation Corps Resource Page.  Eventually, I may phase out posts here at Forest Army and hopefully migrate content that is currently here, over to the CCC Resource Page but in the meantime, visitors can jump between the two blogs by clicking the image under the phrase “Please visit my other CCC blog” which appears along the left hand side of the blog page here.  I hope that visitors will find ample reason to jump between the two in search of new, interesting CCC material but my hope is that you won’t find the jumping between blogs to be too bothersome.


Recently, while doing a Google search for material related to the Civilian Conservation Corps, an image from this blog appeared with the related Google images.  Problem was, when I checked the source of the image, the link took me to a different blog with a very similar name.  More shocking still, that blog is an exact copy of the Forest Army blog you are viewing here, except the posts are listed as having been posted by a  “Walters Louann”.  Fortunately, the copyright line I put at the end of my articles does appear on the mirror site but it’s disconcerting to see your work posted verbatim on another blog.  I sent an email to the Google Blogger folks but, perhaps not surprisingly, there was no response.  I suspect the site that is mirroring my blog is coming from overseas; perhaps Asia.

I’m not relaying this bit of information because I think you should go over and view the blog that is basically an exact copy of my Forest Army blog, not even out of basic curiosity.  On the contrary, I think you should avoid going to that blog because I don’t have any idea what sort of spam or malware might be attached to the links they are using.  Going forward, you will likely see my copyright information more prominently posted here at Forest Army and at the CCC Resource Page.  I research and write about the CCC in order to share information and I’m pleased when visitors comment that my site is helpful or interesting and I generally agree to any requests to use information or link to my page, but obviously, finding a pirate blog that purports to be Forest Army is frustrating and I will do what I can to make certain that my own research and writing is recognized, for better or worse.


Please enter a comment or question if you have one either here or at the CCC Resource Page.  Feedback, any feedback, is often the spark that motivates people to continue researching and writing and the effort becomes somewhat meaningless if the worker never hears back from the folks using the product of his or her labor.

© Michael I. Smith, 2014

Monday, December 16, 2013

Raising and Deploying a Conservation Army

Note:  A longer version of this article appeared in the May/June 2013 issue of Army Engineer magazine.  I have retained the original references list but retitled it “For Further Reading” since some of the sources listed were not used for the portions of the article that appears here.  Also, throughout this piece I refer to the “army” as the driving force behind the mobilization and deployment of the CCC.  In fact the War Department was the military agency tasked with the job of in-processing and caring for enrollees and the bulk of that task fell to the Army, however you will find instances of CCC camps being run by Marine Corps and Navy officers as well.
Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees, Fort Knox conditioning camp, 1934.

On March 24, 1933 the commanders of all nine Army Corps areas received a secret radio communique, warning of a potential task of national importance about to be delegated to them.  No doubt the message was received with some trepidation, angst and frustration, for the upshot of the broadcast was that the United States Army should prepare for a mass mobilization of men that would ultimately exceed that which was undertaken in connection with America’s involvement in World War I.  And yet, while many in the military may have cursed their luck in early 1933, by years’ end many would agree with the sentiments of Colonel Duncan K. Major who, writing in the July-August 1933 issue of Army Ordnance, noted that “Few military campaigns have equaled such a performance.  To the Army it offered a real opportunity.” 

What sort of message would cause the Corps area commanders to sit up and take notice?  Anticipating passage of the bill to create the Civilian Conservation Corps, the War Department sent word to all nine Corps commanders, putting them on notice that the initial tasks of in-processing, conditioning, organizing, equipping and transporting the new enrollees to their respective railheads would fall to the Army.  From the outset, and even as the first enrollees began to roll in following the passage of the legislation that created the CCC on March 31, 1933, the role of the Army was to have been limited, with control of the new enrollees reverting to various technical services such as the Forest Service and National Park Service at the earliest opportunity.  Given the world situation and the state of military preparedness in the United States in 1933, it is little wonder that even this supposedly limited military role met with concern both within the military and in civilian circles.

Many Americans, wary of burgeoning militarism overseas and with memories of World War I still fresh in their minds, opposed anything that smacked of increased militarism or rearmament at home and the status of the United States military, ranked 17th in the world, was a reflection of this broad sentiment.  In 1933 most Army units were far from fully staffed; George C. Marshall commanded a battalion that should have counted upwards of 1,000 men on its roster but which in fact could muster barely 200 men.  Not surprising then that within the military ranks the postwar officer corps questioned, justifiably, the military’s ability to undertake even a limited role in the mobilization of the CCC while still maintaining any sort of national defense posture in the process.
Letter to Cpt. James N. Luton, 323rd Infantry
informing him that his application for active
duty service with the CCC has been received.  1936.

And yet, that is exactly what happened, and more.  When it became clear that the agencies involved (Department of War, Department of Labor, Department of Interior and Department of Agriculture) would be unable to meet President Roosevelt’s goal of placing 250,000 young men in forestry camps by July 1, 1933, under the original organizational matrix, the Army assumed control of all matters except supervision of the work being done.  With its expanded role, the Army reluctantly found itself in charge of CCC enrollees all hours of the day except the time they were away from the camp working for the technical service – approximately eight hours a day, five days a week. 

The increased Army role cleared some of the logjams, but mobilizing and deploying enrollees continued to lag behind and it remained clear that the President’s goal would still not be met.  Again the Army was called in to formulate a plan.  Given less than 40 hours, Colonel Duncan K. Major, the Army’s representative on the President’s Advisory Council assembled sections from the General Staff and worked through the day and night of May 11th and into the early hours of the 12th to assemble the relevant facts, draw appropriate conclusions and propose a suitable recommendation that concluded with the following blunt proposal:

It is therefore recommended that if the decision is to place 274,375 men in work camps by July 1, 1933, the Director give the War Department its full mission at once, provide the means for its accomplishment and then protect it from all interference.  The means to be provided are: 1. $46,000,000 to be transferred at once; 2. An Executive Order waiving restriction on purchases; 3. The necessary instructions to the Department of Labor covering selection.

The updated plan was immediately approved by President Roosevelt and the impact of the Army’s further expanded role and greater discretionary power was almost immediate.  Whereas just 52,000 young men had been enrolled in the CCC by May 10th, national enrollment jumped to over 62,000 by May 16th, increased by another 8,100 men on the 17th and further increased by 10,500 men on the 18th of May.  Ultimately, the President’s goal to have a quarter million enrollees working in more than 1,000 camps by July 1, 1933 was met because the Army was given greater flexibility and the massive effort decentralized down to the level of the nine Corps areas.  In an article in the January-February 1934 issue of The Military Engineer Major John Guthrie, Corps of Engineers, reported the results of that effort with pride:

This whole movement was an unprecedented mobilization.  An average of 8,450 men per day was enrolled.  To accomplish the movements from conditioning camps (Army posts) to work camps, 211 special trains were used, carrying 64,196 men in 1,605 sleepers and coaches; of these, 55,130 men went from Corps Areas I, II, and III to the far west.  To equip and supply this tree Army of 314,000 men has been a tremendous job in itself.

The effort truly was unprecedented, but it was a drain on the Army’s resources.  All but two Army schools were closed, their faculty and students mobilized for duty with the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Of the 9,936 regular Army officers available when the CCC was established, 5,239 were called up for full time service related to the CCC, but there was satisfaction in a job well done and by mid-1933, even Colonel Major, initially a skeptic, was moved to write glowingly of the CCC mobilization for Army Ordnance.

Regular Army officers and an NCO at Camp Roosevelt,
the first CCC camp, 1933.

History records the War Department’s nearly decade long association with the CCC as an unparalleled success and despite rough patches, especially in the early months, and despite the public’s initial fear that the CCC would somehow become “militarized” by its connection to the Army, media accounts of the CCC eventually became heavy with military metaphors (“tree Army,” “soil soldiers,” “forests protected by ‘shock troops’ of the CCC”) and by the early 1940s the CCC’s effort was refocused on national defense work as the economy improved and enrollment declined, but always with an eye toward improving the enrollee, too.

Eventually, active duty officers were rotated out of CCC service, replaced by reserve officers from all branches of the military, many of them eager for an opportunity to hone their leadership skills and often out of work in their civilian professions, much like the enrollees in the camps they came to lead.  Despite the odd difficulty or adversity in the local camps all the way up to the Corps level, the record of the Army and the War Department in connection with the CCC is unmatched in our history.  The largest peacetime mobilization, the sustained deployment and provisioning of a peacetime conservation Army over nearly a decade and tangible improvements in military readiness are the legacy of the Army’s association with the Civilian Conservation Corps.  Military officers, active duty and reservists, gained valuable experience leading company-sized units, learned to manage and account for equipment, experienced the sad duty of dealing with sick, injured and dead enrollees and perhaps just as importantly, served as positive models for millions of men who became veterans in their own right because of the U.S. entry into World War II.  While there are no hard and fast figures to show how many CCC enrollees went on to serve in the military, one recent history claims the number may be as high as 90 percent.  Even if one estimates the number of enrollees who entered the military at a more conservative 50 percent, it still must be acknowledged that the other 50 percent likely entered the home front workforce where they put their newly learned job skills to very good use in support of the war effort.  In any event, the significance of the CCC is unquestionable and the role of the U.S. Army in the success of the CCC is equally undeniable.  Little wonder then that no less a figure than General George C. Marshall, himself a CCC district commander, a World War II leader, Secretary of State and Nobel Prize recipient said of the Civilian Conservation Corps:  “I found the CCC the most instructive service I have ever had and the most interesting.” 

Military staff at a CCC camp in Wisconsin.

Phoenix CCC District staff, 1936.

For Further Reading

Captain “X”, “A Civilian Army in the Woods,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine, March 1934, 487-497.

Coffman, Edward M., The Regulars:  The American Army 1898-1941 (Cambridge, MA:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press).

Guthrie, John D., “The Civilian Conservation Corps,” The Military Engineer, Jan-Feb, 1934, Vol. XXVI No. 145, 15-19.

Johnson, Charles W., “The Army and the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-42,” Prologue: The Journal of the National Archives, Fall 1972, 138-156.

Maher, Neil M., Nature’s New Deal (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2008).

Major, Duncan K., “Mobilizing the Conservation Corps:  The Army Does a Gigantic Job in Record Time,” Army Ordnance, July-Aug, 1933, Vol. XIV No.79, 33-38.

Mays-Smith, Kathy, Gold Medal CCC Company 1538 (Paducah, KY, Turner Publishing Company, 2001).

McKoy, Kathleen L., Cultures at a Crossroads:  An Administrative History of Pipe Springs National Monument (Denver, CO:  U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 2000).

 Pasquill, Robert, The Civilian Conservation Corps in Alabama, 1933-1942:  A Great and Lasting Good (Tuscaloosa, AL:  University of Alabama Press, 2008).

Salmond, John A., The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942:  A New Deal Case Study (Durham, NC:  Duke University Press, 1967).

Whittlesey, Lee H., Death in Yellowstone:  Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park (Lanham, MD:  Roberts Rinehart Publishers, 1995).

Images from the author’s collection.
© Michael I. Smith, 2013


Monday, July 8, 2013

After the Sacrifice: A Grim and Dismal Business

While we might argue whether grief comes before numbness or vice versa, I’m inclined to think that inevitably grief or numbness will be replaced by collective amnesia.  Consequently, I feel compelled to put down some thoughts in the wake of the Yarnell Hill tragedy and, perhaps not surprisingly, the touchstone for me is a similar tragedy that occurred three quarters of a century ago in a Wyoming forest.  More to the point, I’m thinking of events that took place in the aftermath of that Wyoming tragedy and how they square with the events taking place in Arizona in the blazing, unforgiving summer of 2013.  In the midst of grief and numbness and before amnesia, there is a grim and dismal business that seems always to require attending to in sad situations such as this.

A photograph of 19 flag-draped body bags lying in the burn area emerged in the days immediately following the Yarnell Hill tragedy and in short order there has been debate regarding whether such an image is appropriate and whether it might be too intrusive.  While I rarely editorialize here, I will say in this case, that the sad image of 19 flag-draped forms is a fitting eulogy to young men who gave up their very existence in the fight against wildland fire.  I only wish things had been the same 75 years ago when flames overtook the CCC crews at Blackwater; however in their case, there were no flags, only canvas.  

I’ve chosen not to post the final image of the Yarnell Hill 19 lying near where they likely fell but anyone with an ounce of internet savvy will be able to find it.  On the other hand, I am posting a picture from the 1937 Blackwater Creek tragedy with the hope that it will generate some thought regarding how much things have changed in 75 years of forestry, firefighting and humanity. 

 In the hours immediately after the 1937 Blackwater blow up and its tragic consequences, fire suppression work all but ceased as crews fanned out into the burn to search for victims.  Most of the dead were discovered in the process of extricating another group – the living, the dead and dying – who had been trapped by the blow up.  With help from rescue parties, the scarred and fatigued survivors carried the dead and dying down to the lower fire camps where they were tended to before being transported to hospitals in Cody, Wyoming.

It strikes me that retrieval of the dead in cases like the Yarnell Hill Fire, as with other recent tragedies that have preceded it, must be undertaken as a mix of requiem and a search for investigative clarity.  There are honors to be rendered but also questions to be answered.  The impulse to mourn will be interrupted, abruptly and perhaps grudgingly, by the desire to find answers, to learn lessons and perhaps even assess blame.  I do not get the impression that such was the case 75 years ago on the fire scarred hillsides of a forest near Yellowstone National Park.  The body of Ranger Al Clayton and the six men who died with him were removed in the late morning and early afternoon of August 22, 1937 and a local newspaper reporter wrote of the scene:

Seven pack-horses, each with angular forms wrapped in canvas and lashed to the saddles, filed slowly out of the wooded ravine and stopped at the cars.  Over a hundred wide-eyed, ashen-gray youngsters, just ready to go to the fire line, pushed forward, drawn by a chilling magnetism to see what their former comrades looked like.

No flag-draped body bags, no honor guard processions, just canvas wrapped parcels somewhat ghoulishly exhibited for all to see in a grim processional.  In the midst of the death and fear – in spite of the death and fear - fresh CCC crews continued to arrive until at one point more than 500 men were fighting the Blackwater Fire.  By noon on Tuesday, August 24th the fire was listed as officially under control and on the following day the Forest Service supervisors began to release CCC crews to return to their camps and their regular duties.  Finally, on August 31st, ten days after the fatal blow up and almost two weeks after lightening started a seemingly inconsequential blaze, the last of the firefighting crews were disbanded, having constructed more than eleven miles of fire line in the process of extinguishing the Blackwater Fire.

Photos of the recovery of the Blackwater victims appeared in the August 1941 issue of Sports Afield and perhaps elsewhere and I am unaware of any backlash at the time.  Perhaps the passage of four years’ time helped dull the impact.  Perhaps the amnesia had already begun to set in by that point.  Perhaps the growing global carnage diminished Blackwater’s fiery cataclysm down to seemingly nothing by comparison.  Perhaps people simply had thicker skins 75 years ago.

I have argued that the dead of Blackwater have not received the same sort of recognition as their firefighting brethren who have perished on the fire lines in recent memory, but one thing seems constant over the decades.  Praised or unsung, the heroes have done their work and perished in the doing.  The dismal grim business remains for us, the living, to undertake and sadly that business won’t be quick or clean.
While there appears to have been no backlash following the publication of the photos of
the removal of those killed in the Blackwater blow up, one gets the impression from the
expressions on the faces of the men in this image that they were uneasy knowing that the
grim scene was being photographed.
You can read an earlier, more detailed post about the Blackwater tragedy here.

©Michael I. Smith, 2013

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Salute to NACCCA/CCC Legacy Chapter 44

CCC veterans gathered for an
event in Paysonm, AZ. (L-R):
James Grose, Arquimedes Fraijo, Jack
Duncan, Owen Carolan, John
McLeod (rear), Bill Millard
Fred Garcia and Mackie Clark
Chapter 44 of the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni (NACCCA) was organized in 1981 and since that time has been in continuous operation under the guidance of ten different presidents and a host of able officers including Audrey Clark who has served as our valued Chapter Secretary for many years, Fred Garcia, our Chapter Treasurer who has put in more time as a Chapter officer than anyone else, and Jack Duncan, our long-serving and most recent Chapter Vice-President. 

For those not inclined to do the math, that’s 31 years of effort, working to preserve and share the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  In that time, the Chapter has placed plaques and statues from one end of Arizona to the other; plaques in places like Grand Canyon National Park, the Arizona state capitol in Phoenix, Colossal Cave and Chiricahua National Monument and statues at Colossal Cave Mountain Park near Tucson and Phoenix South Mountain Park.  We created a CCC museum exhibit at South Mountain Park and hosted a traveling exhibit which we staffed at history events at South Mountain Park, Pueblo Grand Museum, the Arizona Historical Society Museum in Phoenix, in Payson, Arizona and elsewhere.
Gerald Johnson, CCC and USMC Veteran
and Arizona CCC statue donor

Certainly the crowning achievements in the Chapter’s resume must be the purchase and placement of two CCC worker statues in Arizona.  The initial task of raising funds for an Arizona CCC statue was undertaken as something of a shoestring effort but labored along for more than a year.  Just when it appeared that the fundraising effort would stumble into failure, CCC alumnus Gerald Johnson of Bisbee, Arizona stepped forward to donate sufficient funds to acquire Arizona’s first CCC statue, which was placed at the Colossal Cave visitor center.
Jack Duncan, CCC Veteran and
and Arizona CCC statue donor

We might have stood content to have helped get Arizona a single CCC worker statue but in typical we can do it fashion, another CCC veteran stepped forward to offer his help.  Jack Duncan, who worked in the CCC in Colorado and who has served so well as Chapter 44 Vice President put up the money to buy a second CCC worker statue outright.  Arizona’s second CCC worker statue was erected at Phoenix South Mountain Park.

In hindsight, it seems clear that Arizona would not have even one CCC worker statue were it not for the generosity of former enrollees Gerald Johnson and Jack Duncan, who provided sufficient funds to make the purchase.  Additional funds raised by Chapter 44 helped with incidentals associated with placement of the statues and remaining monies have been used to purchase the Happy Days newspapers and Arizona camp newspapers on microfiche for the Arizona State Archives.  The singular generosity of Gerald and Jack made it possible for the Chapter to do so much more in these last few years that would otherwise have been possible. 

CCC Plaque at Chiricahua NM
in Southeastern Arizona
Among the Chapter’s other significant accomplishments:  We commissioned a portable exhibit case, which we then filled with CCC artifacts and donated to the National Park Service in Flagstaff.  Chapter 44 hosted the 2004 NACCCA reunion and sponsored a writing competition to mark the 75th anniversary of the CCC in 2008.  We donated funds to help restore a scale model of the battleship USS Arizona.  In 2010 we donated the entire available editions of Happy Days newspaper on microfilm to the Arizona State Archives and we have recently acquired all the available editions of Arizona CCC camp newspapers to donate to the State Archives in honor of the CCC’s 80th anniversary early next year.  Along the way we also helped and inspired historians and writers including Robert Moore, Jane Jackson and Robert Audretsch, who sought us out in their efforts to document the history of the CCC.

 Nobody – nobody – can honestly claim to have done more to promote the history of the CCC in Arizona than the members of Chapter 44 over the past three decades.  You should all be proud of the effort because it was done through your work, your time and with donations large and small to the chapter treasury, even in the form of purchasing raffle tickets at our monthly meetings.
Our once robust little organization is winding down its operations even as we celebrate the 80th anniversary of the CCC we all love so much.  By the end of 2013 we will cease operation and halt our quarterly meeting schedule but one day, I hope that scholars and historians will take a moment to note the largely anonymous efforts undertaken by Chapter 44 under the NACCCA banner, the CCC Legacy banner and finally as an independent social organization focused on keeping the story of the CCC alive. In the meantime, each of you should take pride in what you have accomplished as members of Chapter 44 and know that your efforts will help insure that people remember the important work of the CCC in Arizona and nationwide.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A small mystery solved.

In my last post at the  Civilian Conservation Corps Resource Page, I spoke of tying up loose ends and how those loose ends don’t always bind up as nicely as we might like. In that particular case, the loose ends didn’t quite come together but it was an exciting moment or two as I sought to identify where a particular photograph might have come from.

As it turns out, there’s a loose end here at Forest Army and as luck would have it, the ends came together much more neatly this time around. In a post I made back in late 2010 I editorialized regarding the standardization and regimentation that were such an important part of the CCC’s success (you can see that post here.)

At that time, I was mystified by the purpose of a particular pole or post installation that I’ve encountered both in photographs and in the field. The pole looked like this in a photograph that I obtained from the National Association of CCC Alumni (NACCCA) back in the early 1990s.
I found a surprisingly similar pole installation at the site of a former CCC camp in Yavapai County, Arizona and have ruminated on its purpose ever since. It seems clear that a standard set of plans guided the construction and installation of poles like these; how else do you explain the striking similarity between two examples when one example is at Grand Canyon National Park and the other in a U.S. Forest Service CCC camp near Prescott, Arizona? But what were these posts or poles used for?

At the time, I wrote, “I’ve no idea what the purpose of the twin pole arrangement is; perhaps it was part of a gate, or perhaps it was one in a series of telephone or telegraph poles strung through the juniper…one wonders why the photographer even bothered with snapping the picture at all.”
Well, we’ve tied the loose ends together this time, thanks to some fortuitous help from a prolific local CCC researcher. About a week ago I received an email from Robert “Ranger Bob” Audretsch, who’d just wrapped up some research at the Grand Canyon museum. He attached one photo as representative of about “60 great photos” that he’d found for a project he’s working on. I don’t have the faintest clue why Bob picked the particular photo that he attached to his email but the second I opened it up, I knew that all the uncertainty surrounding the CCC mystery poles at Grand Canyon and Walnut Creek was cleared up. Sometimes the loose ends tie themselves up without much help.

The picture Ranger Bob emailed me shows three CCC boys working on a string of telephone or telegraph poles, with two guys cinching up the posts while a third guy strings the wire atop the pole. I’m wondering if it was safe for one enrollee to be climbing atop the pole before it was fully wired into place, but I suppose that was a matter for the project foreman to worry about. At any rate, they all appear to be working really hard; the camera captures them in something of a blur. There is no doubt that this photo depicts the same project that is depicted in the rather innocuous photo that I received from the NACCCA collection so many years ago and I’m pleased and proud to post them side by side here, perhaps for the first time ever.

Armed with the Grand Canyon telephone pole photo from Ranger Bob, I can now easily conclude that the similar pole installation I saw still standing at the former site of the Walnut Creek CCC camp was or a telephone or other type of wire strung to or through the camp. Who can guess what sorts of communications passed that way while the camp was in operation; we’ll never know, but we at least know why those poles were placed in the ground.

You can find more information about Ranger Bob Audretsch, his CCC research, and his book at his website CCC Books. Pay him a visit, look around, buy a book!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Holidays in the CCC

Imagine feeling lonely and happy at the same time. That must be the feeling that many CCC enrollees had when special days like Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s rolled around each year. Surely the feeling must be akin to the feelings a young soldier has, living in a barracks far from home during the holidays: a touch of warmth from the season, tempered by a twinge of loneliness and homesickness, charged with a bit of excitement over the thought of having a day off and a grand meal in the mess hall. Some of the lucky boys have gone home for Christmas so the camp is somewhat deserted and perhaps covered in a blanket of snow. The camp commander seems a bit more cordial than usual, stopping in each barracks to chat with the enrollees after the crews returned from the work site. A group of enrollees are in the mess hall helping the kitchen crew decorate for the big dinner and as darkness settles on the forest camp, they can be seen through the windows of the mess hall stringing crepe paper. Perhaps being stuck in camp won’t be so bad after all.

Christmas 1933 marked the first celebration of the holiday in the life of the CCC, and nationwide it was a special event marked by extraordinary efforts to bolster the morale of enrollees in camps from one end of the country to the other. In his book, The Civilian Conservation Corps in Alabama, 1933-1942 by Robert Pasquill, Jr. noted the following:

On December 22, 1933, the Gadsden Times announced that the 315,000 CCC men across the nation would be having a real Christmas. Camps were decorating trees. A special radio program was to be broadcast by the National Broadcast Company with messages by Director Fechner and Secretary of Agriculture Wallace. The railroads were offering special rates to enrollees. Some 445,000 were to be served for Christmas dinners.

No doubt that first CCC Christmas dinner in 1933 was a far more promising affair for many enrollees and their families than had been the Christmas of 1932, when there was no New Deal and no Civilian Conservation Corps.
The literature on the CCC is full of accounts of how the holidays were celebrated in the camps, which were really like small communities. Enrollees could save up leave during their enrollment and, when Christmas and New Year rolled around, the lucky ones would have an opportunity to return home for the holidays.

In Coming of Age in the Great Depression: The Civilian Conservation Corps Experience in New Mexico, 1933-1942, Richard Melzer noted:

Two of the biggest holidays of the year, Christmas and New Year’s, left many camps largely deserted. Fifty percent of the enrollees at SCS-4-N at El Rito were granted five-day leaves to go home for Christmas in1936, while the remaining fifty percent took their five-day leaves during the New Year’s holiday. Aware that a large percentage of all desertions occurred following major holidays, prudent officers took this opportunity to remind enrollees of the dire consequences of going AWOL. Although sometimes late, most enrollees returned to camp out of a personal sense of duty as well as a sincere desire to continue helping the loved ones they had just visited back home.

Naturally, not every enrollee was able to return home; some remained in camp at Christmastime and perhaps over New Years. Sympathetic commanders and technical staff usually tried to make the time as pleasant as possible.

The December 1936 issue of the North Woodstock, N.H. camp newspaper, The Pioneer, offered this glimpse of life in the camps over the holidays:

Lt. White, in a very jovial mood, made an impromptu speech in which he said in effect that the camp was ours for the day and that he wanted us to act as though we were at home with our families. The talk was received with enthusiasm by the men and they proceed to carry the lieutenant’s suggestion into effect, seldom have we heard so much noise everybody had a great deal of fun. We congratulate the lieutenant, the mess steward and the kitchen staff, they did a fine job.

(Quoted in Builder of Men: Life in the C.C.C. Camps of New Hampshire by David d. Draves.)

Borrowing from a practice started by U.S. soldiers in France during World War I, enrollees in some CCC camps would “adopt” children from the local community to help insure they had at least a small gift for Christmas, sometimes hosting parties at the camp with an appearance by Santa Claus himself. Writing in the Fall 2001 edition of The Historian, Robert A. Waller refers to one such CCC company:

South Carolina veterans camp Co. 2414 at Sumter (S.C.) enjoyed the most publicity in Happy Days when their 1934 Christmas party for the community children enjoyed pictorial coverage.
The social activities of the young men during their off-hours on weekends consumed much newsprint in Happy Days. The CCC boys created their own social life, often in connection with nearby communities during holidays or on the anniversary of the founding of the “Cees.” The commander of Co. 4486 at Liberty (S.C.) organized a Christmas dinner dance with music provided by the Jungaleers of Clemson College.
(From Happy Days and the Civilian Conservation Corps in South Carolina, 1933-1942 by Robert A. Waller, published in The Historian Vol. 64, No. 1, Fall 2001.)

In the December 1937 issue of The Score of 2704 at Camp SCS-14, Chatfield, Minnesota, the editors wrote of their regret at the impending disbandment of the Company, but looked forward to their final Christmas celebration together.

Dinner – Smoker Party on Program. Big Doin’s Planned. Here is the real news – before this company becomes history, there is going to be a great “going’s on.” As we go to press the date for the big event has not been decided, but we believe it will be next Friday nite.

There will be an extra special dinner in the mess hall coming soon. From what we hear it is going to be a second Thanksgiving feast.
But the real fun will be when the recreation hall is turned into a Monte Carlo. Each man will be handed a roll of five hundred dollars. What will he be able to do with his money?? There will be raffle wheels, bingo games and many ways for the men to spend and keep spending. The canteen will be open for business as usual, if there is any business, but with five hundred iron men one should buy something. Of course prices will be a little high. Candy and pop will sell for one hundred bucks at the bar. Cigarettes will go for the paltry sum of three hundred dollars. Of course the money will all be phoney and it will have to be used on our Monte Carlo nite. Is such a party fun?? Just read the story of a party like this one held by the men in this company when it was located up north.

It’s difficult to imagine celebrating a Christmas or New Year holiday in the midst of the Great Depression. It’s even more difficult to imagine facing the holidays in a CCC camp far from home with five dollars or less in your pocket and not much more than the prospect of a big dinner in the mess hall to keep your spirits buoyed up, but that’s what happened in hundreds of thousands of cases at thousands of camps scattered across the United States between 1933 and 1942. Who could know that with the advent of war, those bittersweet holidays in the CCC would be looked back upon with fondness by the grown men who left the CCC to fight across the world from 1942 to 1945?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Blacks in the CCC:

A Forest Army Post in Honor of Black History Month

If the Civilian Conservation Corps had one failing, it would have to be in the area of racial integration and equality. Although the legislation that created the CCC included language expressly forbidding discrimination on the basis of race, problems cropped up almost immediately during the initial selection process in the individual states and continued throughout the life of the program. Looking back it seems clear that there was blame to go around; President Roosevelt was reluctant to use the New Deal as a platform to promote the sort of strong social agenda represented by integration, CCC Director Robert Fechner, as a southerner, was pre-disposed to notions favoring Jim Crow, some military officers were opposed to integration if not opposed to black enrollment altogether and finally, nationwide, communities large and small came out in opposition to the establishment of all-black CCC camps. And yet looking back there are exceptions to these notions and also reasons to be glad for the opportunity the CCC provided to young black men at perhaps our nation’s bleakest time and to view that opportunity for what it was: a small step toward future successes.

For excellent accounts of the initial problems and indeed a valuable discussion of the problem of racism in the CCC throughout its lifespan, two books immediately come to mind: John Salmond’s groundbreaking work from the 1960s, The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942: A New Deal Case Study and Joseph Speakman’s more recent book At Work in Penn’s Woods: The Civilian Conservation Corps in Pennsylvania. Both books devote an entire chapter to the issue of race and racism in the CCC; Salmond in a chapter titled “The Selection of Negroes, 1933-1937,” and Speakman in a chapter titled “African-Americans in Penn’s Woods. (A copy of Salmond’s important work is now available online and can be viewed here. For an earlier Forest Army review of At Work in Penn’s Woods click here.)
Speakman describes the life of black CCC enrollees as an existence in a parallel universe, in an organization similar to the CCC but called the “Colored Civilian Conservation Corps” – the CCCC. Speakman notes that approximately 250,000 black enrollees served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942 but he questions whether black enrollment would have been much different had Republican Representative Oscar De Priest (an African-American congressman from Illinois) not fought to have the non-discrimination amendment added to the legislation creating the Emergency Conservation Work program. As Speakman himself acknowledges, it is impossible to say what the alternative might have been had De Priest’s amendment not been made.

For his part, Salmond doesn’t delve too deeply into the what-ifs of diversity and racial integration in the CCC, however both he and Speakman cite an account from one black enrollee that is especially significant and insightful.

Meeting Jim Crow at Camp Dix

The black enrollee whom Salmond and Speakman quote is Luther C. Wandall and his comments appeared in the August 1935 issue of Crisis. Young Luther Wandall wrote at length about his experience in the CCC, from initial enrollment to camp life experiences. Wandall’s experience at Camp Dix is especially noteworthy as a glimpse not simply of how whites of the time treated blacks as a simple matter of policy but also how blacks viewed whites. Part of Wandall’s experience, under the heading “Jim Crow at Camp Dix,” merits an extensive quote:

We reached Camp Dix about 7:30 that evening. As we rolled up in front of headquarters an officer came out to the bus and told us: “You will double-time as you leave this bus, remove your hat when you hit the door, and when you are asked questions, answer ‘Yes, sir,’ and ‘No, sir.’”

And here it was that Mr. James Crow first definitely put in his appearance. When my record was taken at Pier I, a “C” was placed on it. When the busloads were made up at Whitehall Street an officer reported as follows: “35, 8 colored.” But until now there had been no distinction made.

But before we left the bus the officer shouted emphatically: “Colored boys fall out in the rear.” The colored from several buses were herded together, and stood in line until after the white boys had been registered and taken to their tents. This seemed to be the established order of procedure at Camp Dix.

This separation of the colored from the whites was completely and rigidly maintained at this camp. One Puerto Rican, who was darker than I, and who preferred to be with the colored, was regarded as pitifully uninformed by the officers.

While we stood in line there, as well as afterwards, I was interested to observe these officers. They were contradictory, and by no means simple or uniform in type. Many of them were southerners, how many I could not tell. Out of their official character they were usually courteous, kindly, refined, and even intimate. They offered extra money to any of us who could sing or dance. On the other hand, some were vicious and ill-tempered, and apparently restrained only by fear.

So you can imagine my feelings when an officer, a small quiet fellow, obviously a southerner, asked me how I would like to stay in Camp Dix permanently as his clerk! This officer was very courteous, and seemed to be used to colored people, and liked them. I declined his offer.
Local Actions and Reactions, Good and Bad

When it came to honoring the no discrimination clause of the CCC act, individual states often had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the right. For example, regarding Arkansas’s CCC enrollment selection process, Salmond wrote of an exchange that took place between Director of CCC enrollment Frank W. Persons and Arkansas’s relief director William Rooksbery in 1933:
Similarly (compared to Georgia), after investigating an NAACP complaint of discrimination in Arkansas, Persons again threatened to withhold quotas. The state’s indignant relief director, William A. Rooksbery, unequivocally denied the charge that no Negroes had been selected. No less than three had in fact been enrolled, he protested, but Persons was unimpressed, and told him so. The chastened state official promised to induct more within the following few weeks.

And yet it seems that in some cases, the farther down the chain of authority we travel, the more receptive and open minded the parties became. Harley E. Jolley, writing in, That Magnificent Army of Youth and Peace: The Civilian Conservation Corps in North Carolina, 1933-1942, notes that officials at the county level often implored the state recruiting offices to increase their quota of black enrollees. For example, this appeal: “Hoke County’s case load more than half colored. Please advise if possible to change part of the white quota to colored.” And from Orange County: “If there is anything you can do toward allowing for a considerable number of negroes instead of white men it would certainly help out our local relief situation.” But Jolley goes on to point out that, “Invariably, however, the state CCC administrator summarily rejected such requests…”

Often, the local request for black enrollees came in the form of an awkward and easily identified backhand compliment that rings with cultural insensitivity today. Jolley recounts the editor of a local paper in Shelby, North Carolina, who wrote in support of an all black CCC camp being established nearby: “In the first place, the work to be done here is precisely the kind of work that negroes do better than white men. It will be ditch digging, terracing, and drainage work, with picks and hoes, and shovels. A gang of negroes…can do that kind of work better and happier than any other crew. In the second place, the colored boys are more tractable.” Later, an army engineer affiliated with the construction of the camp was quoted as saying, “Why, we have been controlling negroes in the south for more than 400 years. As a matter of fact, most of the progress of the Southland has been built on the broad shoulders of black boys just like these. They’ll be no problem to the city at all, whereas white boys often are.”

No question but the issue of race in the CCC was most significant in the south. In a region of the country where blacks made up as much as 50 percent of the total population, the lack of recruitment of blacks for work in southern CCC camps is disgusting today, but must be viewed in light of the overriding system of prejudice at the time. Further, cases of racism were not confined to the southern states by any means and looking back we find that camps were segregated by race nationwide and that all-black camps ran into local opposition in such seemingly progressive regions as California.

The January 13, 1934 issue of the Norfolk Journal and Guide reported that in September 1933 Eddie Simons, a young black enrollee, was given a dishonorable discharge on the spot and denied his last months pay when he refused to fan the flies off of a young lieutenant from the 16th Infantry, temporarily in command of a CCC camp in North Lisbon, New Jersey. After the NAACP took up young Simons’ cause and protested the injustice to no less a person than Robert Fechner, the enrollee was given an honorable discharge “free from any charge of insubordination” and paid what he was owed.

Salmond points out that, beyond the initial difficulty of actually getting young blacks selected and enrolled into the CCC, Arkansas citizens “accepted with equanimity many Negro camps…” while at places like Contra Costa County, California, members of the community noted that black enrollees assigned to a local camp were frequently, “in an intoxicated condition,” and claimed that the camp was “a menace to the peace and quiet of the community.” Likely as a result of this nationwide bias, CCC Director Robert Fechner never forced the issue and, if local protests erupted due to the all-black composition of a CCC camp, he would order the camp closed or moved onto an Army reservation, for, as both Salmond and Speakman point out, in Fechner’s own words, Fechner was “a Southerner by birth and raising” and thus he, “clearly understood the Negro problem.”

Fechner’s “Problem”

And yet it seems unclear whether Fechner did truly understand the “negro problem,” given that he insisted CCC companies be segregated by race and he seems to have been opposed to appointing blacks as supervisors in segregated, all-black CCC camps. Fechner clearly didn’t understand the “problem” from the point of view of the “negro” enrollee; perhaps Fechner simply thought of Negroes as a problem, best avoided and at least kept separate.

In his book Parks for Texas: Enduring Landscapes of the New Deal, historian James Wright Steely casts a light on what is perhaps the precise moment that Fechner decreed that CCC companies be segregated by race. In 1935 when local officials in Texas advocated keeping integrated CCC camps as a compromise – indeed as an alternative – to newly proposed all-black companies, Fechner was pushed “over the edge,” as Steely points out:
“It is astonishing to me that…Mr. Colp would suggest that white and colored Texas boys be enrolled in the same Civilian Conservation Corps company and domiciled in the same camp…Every negro enrollee in Texas is a Texas negro. No out of state negroes are sent into Texas and in conformity with that practice no Texas negroes will be sent to any other state.”

And thus the rules were established, the segregationist policy applied to camps in every state and territory, with the required camp and company reorganizations commencing immediately. And yet we occasionally get a glimpse of the task that Fechner had before him – notwithstanding his own racial prejudices – for he clearly understood the useful work that could be accomplished by CCC companies of any race and when faced with local opposition to all-black CCC camps, Fechner would bend to local pressure but not before reminding the locals what they might be missing. James Steely recounts Fechner’s response to the local populace following the redeployment of an all-black CCC camp from Goose Island State Park to Fort Sam Houston after it ran into local opposition. Fechner later explained to local officials: “We do not endeavor to force any community to accept a Civilian Conservation Corps company against its will, however we have to find a location for these negro companies and failing to work out the problem in a satisfactory manner…the War Department has always expressed its willingness to accept a negro company and place it on an Army reservation. Where this is done it means, of course, that the state loses an approved Civilian Conservation Corps camp.” [Emphasis added.] One can almost hear Fechner’s whispered, “It’s your loss,” nearly 80 years later.

Fechner will be viewed as no less close-minded with respect to appointing black supervisors in those all-black CCC companies that were as much a product of his personal preferences as any one else’s. In a letter dated September 26, 1935, Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes wrote to Fechner:

I have your letter of September 24 in which you express doubt as to the advisability of appointing Negro supervisory personnel in Negro CCC camps. For my part, I am quite certain that Negroes can function in supervisory capacities just as efficiently as can white men and I do not think that they should be discriminated against merely on account of their color. I can see no menace to the program that you are so efficiently carrying out in giving just and proper recognition to members of the negro race.”

Robert Fechner was a product of his time and a man caught in the middle. Today it seems clear that Roosevelt appointed Fechner as a sop to southern states – in an effort to get the south to support his New Deal agenda. Once appointed, Fechner, whose own father had fought for the Confederacy and lost a leg as a result, seems to have been caught between a traditional loyalty to the old Jim Crow ways of his native south, and the burgeoning egalitarianism beginning to blossom in the United States. Sadly for Fechner, he happened to be put in charge of the one New Deal program best suited for taking bold steps in the area of racial equality. In hindsight, we should be thankful Fechner did as much as he did in this regard given his background and the tenor of the times. Indeed, James Steely points out yet another bitter bit of irony in the fact that black enrollees frequently worked on park and forest improvements that would ultimately be barred to African-American citizens under local Jim Crow laws and history will record that Robert Fechner had nothing whatsoever to do with how the parks were used once the CCC boys finished their work; the blame for that injustice falls at the feet of others.

Elsewhere, Occasional Integration

Naturally, in southern states, CCC camps were strictly segregated, however there were instances of integrated CCC camps elsewhere in the United States. For example, in Arizona, where the percentage of black residents was very small, there were not enough minority enrollees to create segregated CCC companies so young black men were simply enrolled into existing CCC companies. Speakman points out that the existence of even these few integrated camps annoyed Fechner, and yet, exist they did and generally with meaningful success.

The story of a black enrollee called “Old Joe,” offers a useful glimpse of how race relations were often smoothed over naturally in an integrated camp setting. Writing in the book Iron Mike: The Life of General Ernest L. Massad, James C. Milligan recounts the seemingly sad story of a black enrollee at a CCC camp in Sedona, Arizona. The enrollee, whom everyone called “Old Joe” was reportedly mentally retarded and likely should not have been admitted to the CCC on those grounds alone, but enrolled he was and assigned along with two other black enrollees to the Sedona camp. Unfortunately, Old Joe was being tormented by white enrollees who were deliberately scaring him at night. Old Joe went to then Lieutenant Massad and said, “Lieutenant, they’re going to kill me.” Lieutenant Massad soothed the frazzled enrollee’s nerves as best he could but it was an incident out in the field that eventually resolved the touchy racial situation. A group of enrollees were erecting a line of telephone poles along a roadside and were struggling with a particularly heavy one. Watching as four enrollees labored with the cumbersome telephone pole, Old Joe grew increasingly impatient until he finally pushed the struggling crew aside and, grabbing the bulky pole, single-handedly muscled the monster into the ground. Reportedly, from that point on all three black enrollees were treated as equals and Old Joe’s tormenters left him alone. With regard to race, Milligan quotes Massad as saying: “When they [the three black enrollees] showed up, I had too much military in me; I had no prejudice at all. The boys all looked the same to me, and they were treated just like everybody else. If they got into trouble they were treated just like the others.”

Perhaps Arizona – situated as it is, west of – rather than north or south of - the Mason-Dixon line – was better suited for more than a fair share of pre-integration experimentation during the 1930s. In his forthcoming book, Shaping the Park and Saving the Boys: The Civilian Conservation Corps at Grand Canyon, 1933-1942, scheduled for publication in 2012, historian Bob Audretsch relates the story of John B. Scott, a black CCC enrollee who worked right alongside white enrollees at Grand Canyon. Indeed, Scott, who hailed from Spur, Texas, was so well respected that he was assigned the task of monitoring new enrollees on the work site and his diligence saved the life of at least one new enrollee (but you’ll have to wait for the Audretsch book to come out to learn the details). One detail of John Scott’s service in the CCC is striking and that is the fact that if he was indeed from Texas (as is indicated in the 1936 Phoenix District Annual) it means his case represents a situation where a black enrollee was working outside of his home state in a CCC camp in another state, in the same Corps area, after Fechner’s 1935 directive that blacks be placed in camps within their home states.

Despite Fechner’s reluctance, or outright opposition to putting blacks in positions of authority in CCC camps, some blacks did indeed rise to supervisory positions in the all-black CCC camps. Indeed, black reserve officers were even assigned to camps as medical officers and chaplains. In Pennsylvania, Captain Frederick Lyman Slade became the first black officer to command an all-black CCC camp when he assumed command duties at Camp MP-2 in Gettysburg in August of 1936 and by 1938, according to Speakman, all the military officers, including the medical officer as well as the educational advisor at the Gettysburg camp were African-American. But sadly, the ascendancy of minority representation came at the same time as the number of all-black camps was dwindling and black officers were placed in charge of only one other CCC camp before the program was disbanded.
The Cold Hard Truth In Black and White

Perhaps three vignettes of life in the CCC – literally illustrated - will serve to exemplify what black enrollees faced during their time in the Civilian Conservation Corps. The Arkansas Gazette Magazine of Sunday, February 18, 1934, included a very complimentary article entitled “Arkansas’s Negro CCC Camp.” Buried low in the first column of text, under the heading Late One Scene is the following:
Having been opened many months after the 38 CCC camps for whites began functioning, this CCC for Negroes got lost in the shuffle, as it were, so far as newspaper notice was concerned. Consequently Camp P-58 has hitherto received no publicity whatever in daily or weekly newspapers of Arkansas, possibly proving that both the whites and the Negroes in this camp, notwithstanding evident personal pride in achievements, posses rather rare modesty.

Given what we now know about the reluctance of Arkansas officials to enroll black enrollees into the CCC, is it any wonder this camp was “late on the scene”? Remember that by about July 1933, Arkansas had only enrolled 3 black enrollees. Yet the press easily smoothed over this chronological discrepancy.

Included in the illustrations for historian Robert Moore’s outstanding book The Civilian Conservation Corps in Arizona’s Rim Country is a detail of a group photo of Company 864 assigned to Camp F24-A at Arizona’s Bar X Ranch. The casual observer will be gratified to see that there are nine black enrollees in this integrated CCC company, but gratification turns to dismay when one realizes that the nine black enrollees are sitting well apart from the rest of the company. (Elsewhere, I have seen company photos in which a chalk outline has been made on the ground to direct the black enrollees exactly where to sit!)

A final sobering illustration of how the races were separated in the CCC can be found in the 1935 Official Annual of District ‘E’ Fourth Corps Area. Thumbing through this 232-page book is an enjoyable look at the history and work of the CCC in Louisiana and Mississippi and it all seems like a wonderful account of hard work and lives changed until you realize that the book itself is segregated into a white and black section, separated by a blank Certificate of Enrollment form. The histories of the all-black companies are, in keeping with the standards of the day, in the back of the book, separated from the histories of the all white companies by a blank certificate of enrollment form, included almost as an afterthought.

A Blurred Conclusion, Perhaps

With respect to the treatment of minorities in the CCC, Salmond wrote:
The outcome of the controversy over Negro enrolment is an obvious blot on the record of the CCC. The Negro never gained the measure of relief from the agency’s activities to which his economic privation entitled him. The clause in the basic act prohibiting discrimination was honored far more in the breach than in the observance…

On the other hand, Salmond notes:
To look at the place of the Negro in the CCC purely from the viewpoint of opportunities missed, or ideals compromised, is to neglect much of the positive achievement. The CCC opened up new vistas for most Negro enrollees. Certainly, they remained in the Corps far longer than white youths. As one Negro wrote: “as a job and an experience for a man who has no work, I can heartily recommend it.” In short, the CCC, despite its obvious failures, did fulfill at least some of its obligations toward unemployed American Negro youth.

So where does this leave us? Young black men were not enrolled in the CCC in an honest, direct proportion to their population in the United States, despite language in the legislation that was supposed to prevent discrimination, and once enrolled, blacks were often not treated with the same respect and dignity afforded their white counterparts in other camps and regions of the country. And yet, the occasional incidence of integrated CCC companies presaged by nearly a decade the emergence of integrated units in the military during the latter stages of World War II and eventually the full integration of the military later in Harry Truman’s administration and in time for the Korean War. No doubt, as Bob Audretsch points out in Shaping the Park and Saving the Boys, there is a true need for a detailed scholarly look at African Americans in the CCC, but for now, perhaps we might do well enough to view the issue of race relations as it pertains to the CCC not as a failure, but rather, a small success on the road to larger successes that came later and indeed, successes that continue today.
Article Copyright, Michael Smith 2011

Buffalo Crossing Camp, Eastern Arizona

Buffalo Crossing Camp, Eastern Arizona