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The CCC and the NPS
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    Brief History of the CCC

    National Park Service Role

     NPS Camps


    Overall Accomplishments



The Civilian Conservation Corps and
the National Park Service, 1933-1942:

An Administrative History
Chapter Three:
The National Park Service Camps
National Park Service Arrowhead

Civilian Conservation Corps enrollees of Company 535 at Yellowstone National Park mixing cement at Mammoth Hot Sprins.
Courtesy of the National Archives.


Today the CCC is fondly remembered as one of the most successful New Deal programs, but when it was authorized in 1933, it faced a number of challenges.


From the outset, desertions, resignations, and expulsions took a toll. By late June 1933 Skyland camp in the proposed Shenandoah National Park had only 176 of the original 200 youths, and enrollees were deserting on a daily basis. Youths in a camp in Mount Olympus National Monument were proud of their low desertion rate and placed the sign " We Can Take It" over the camp entrance. By early August 1933, 10,000 additional men were needed to replace those who had left the ECW. During the next several years the desertion rate remained low but steadily increased. Despite actions to boost morale, desertions were at 18.8 percent in 1937, and in the next two years one out of every five enrollees was dishonorably discharged. In 1939 the desertion rate for the CCC was nearly 20 percent--compared to 8 percent in 1933. The next year the desertion rate remained at a high level and recruitment quotas were not met. At Glacier National Park and other areas, this resulted in authorized camps not being established. [38]

Enrollee Behavior and Public Reactions

In May 1933 the youths began arriving in the various camps, creating local community reactions ranging from joyous welcome to fear and deep concern over the presence of persons often described as "bums." [39] In some areas, townspeople objected to the establishment of camps because they feared that the youths were vagrants and toughs and that they would rob their homes and violate their daughters and wives. The residents of Bar Harbor, Maine, were particularly distressed about the location of an ECW camp at nearby Acadia National Park and wrote letters to the president opposing its establishment. But President Roosevelt believed the ECW recruits to be hard-working youths down on their luck and permitted the camp to be constructed . Roosevelt's faith in the enrollees proved correct, as neither crime nor the rate of illegitimacy increased. In the proposed Shenandoah National Park, the locals initially fired guns into ECW camps and set forest fires; after six months, as they realized that the ECW was an economic benefit to the community, their hostility gradually subsided. [40]

Youths from the urban centers of New York, New Jersey, and Chicago were frequently dispatched to camps as far away as Rainier, Olympic, and Glacier national parks. Roger W. Toll, superintendent of Yellowstone National Park, had a problem with such recruits. The boys had been sent from the poorer areas of New York City and were resentful of having been placed in Wyoming. They were rude to park visitors and by the middle of June they were homesick and in a mutinous state. A confrontation arose when rangers and men armed with pick handles were sent into the camps to keep order. The mutineers backed down, and nine of the ringleaders were discharged and sent back to New York. In 1934 Superintendent Toll requested that recruits for Yellowstone be more carefully selected to avoid repetition of these events. [41]

The speed at which the original camps were established led to a number of problems. During the first weeks of ECW operations, enrollees were sent to work with no supervision and no work assignments and stood idle until transported back to camp. At other times, camp commanders kept an inordinate number of recruits around the camp to perform housekeeping tasks instead of sending them on work details. In some areas, complaints were received that the ECW recruits were violating game laws and killing the park's wildlife. People in Vicksburg, Mississippi, believed that the ECW workers at Vicksburg National Military Park were destroying historical sites, while camps in Morristown National Historical Park, Acadia National Park, Shenandoah National Park, and Yellowstone National Park were unable to adequately perform work assignments until July, 1933, because of a lack of recruits. But these early problems were soon resolved. [42]

Another charge leveled at the ECW program in the Park Service was that appointments to nontechnical positions and some promotions were based on political affiliation rather than on merit. The official policy was not to give job applicants more consideration because of their personal political affiliations, but this policy was not always adhered to in some places, such as Acadia National Park and Shenandoah National Park. In both parks individuals apparently gained employment because of their Democratic party affiliation, although such incidents remained isolated. Charges of political manipulation were made at various times during the existence of the program. These abuses do not appear to have been widespread, however. [43]

In the second year of the ECW program, people were still fearful that a camp near their town would be harmful. The citizens of Luray, Virginia, expressed deep concern when it was announced that a Park Service camp was to be located in Thornton Gap. They argued that the camp location would pollute the local drinking water and that the enrollees would be a "social menace" to the community. But this did not deter the Park Service from locating a camp in the vicinity. [44]

In 1933 and 1934 the Park Service opened the camps to public inspection and encouraged visitors to look them over. To gain further community support, district officials, camp inspectors, camp officials, and park officials were encouraged to speak and show films before the Chambers of Commerce, as well as the Rotary, Kiwanis, and other civic organizations. These talks were to emphasize the beneficial aspects of the ECW to the parks and local community. [45]

During 1934 new problems arose as "confidence men" used the ECW for their own purposes. For example, in Jersey City, New Jersey, a man using the name of Sergeant Major Barnes claimed to represent the Park Service and collected money from families of ECW workers on the pretense that their son or relative was failing in health. He promised to use the money to ship the boy home with an honorable discharge, a pocketful of money, and a job. None of this was true, and Major Barnes disappeared after receiving the money. Park Service authorities alerted the public when these frauds became known. [46]

In November 1934, 250 ECW workers rebelled while being moved from Maine to camps in Maryland and Virginia. The enrollees were under the impression that they would not be transferred from Maine. While en route they beat their officers, locked them in a baggage car, and took over the train. The transfer proceeded without further incident after 150 policemen appeared on the scene. Objections to being transferred from summer to winter camps were rare. [47]

When the hearings were held on the 1933 Federal Emergency Relief Act, fears were voiced by William Green, president of the American Federation of Labor, and others that any civilian conservation corps would spread militarism and fascism throughout the country and reduce the wages of forest workers. These charges particularly disturbed government officials who administered the program. Assistant Director Wirth became concerned when he found ECW youths on duty at the entrance stations of the Skyline Drive clicking their heels, standing at attention, and saluting when cars passed. ECW camp officials were instructed that the youths were to be courteous, but were not to maintain a military deportment. The Park Service also scheduled work projects that did not compete with jobs being done by local woodsmen. [48]

During the next several years, problems arose over the abuse of alcoholic beverages in camps, vandalism to national parks and monuments by enrollees, mismanagement of program funding, and general unrest in the camps. The most serious incident occurred when five CCC camps in Shenandoah National Park revolted in November 1937. More than 100 enrollees in these camps refused to work and were dismissed. The incident received widespread publicity in the Washington papers and Director Fechner ordered an inquiry. The investigation revealed many causes for the unrest. Southern and northern enrollees with completely different backgrounds and outlooks clashed repeatedly. A number of the recruits from urban centers had difficulty adapting to the rural environment. Other enrollees were sons of coal miners and viewed striking as a natural way of achieving redress of grievances. These factors coalesced in mutiny. Yet this was an isolated incident, and the vast majority of CCC camps in NPS areas solved problems in less dramatic fashion. [49]

Black Enrollment

Another problem area was the treatment of racial minorities. In the early depression years jobs that had traditionally gone to blacks were taken by whites, leaving higher unemployment among black youths. The first ECW bulletins to state selection agents directed that no discrimination because of race, color, or creed would be allowed. Still, within the first few weeks of the ECW, Director Fechner let it be known that black enrollment would compose no more than 10 percent of the total enrollment in the program because blacks constituted roughly that portion of the total U.S. population. [50]

When the program began, blacks were mostly placed in segregated camps under the supervision of white officers and foremen. As difficult as it was to place white camps near communities, the problem was greatly magnified when establishing black camps. The solution was to locate black camps on federally owned land far away from hostile population centers. This policy resulted in a proportionately larger number of black camps being placed in NPS areas. [51]

Despite the apprehension of local communities, black camps were established at Gettysburg National Military Park, Colonial National Monument, Shiloh National Military Park, Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park, Shenandoah National Park, and other NPS areas. Over the years, the superintendents of these parks expressed pleasure with the work accomplished by the black enrollees, and the hostility in the local communities gradually subsided. [52]

By 1935 the Park Service was being asked by black organizations to select blacks for project supervisor and foreman positions. Director Fechner introduced this matter in an ECW advisory council meeting, but representatives of the Army and the Park Service urged him to continue his policy of segregation. They further suggested that blacks should always be under white supervision. Fechner had found that in some areas under NPS supervision, communities were promised that only white camps would be assigned there. He directed the Park Service to correct this misconception immediately and to notify such communities that they were to accept whatever company was assigned. Fechner later ruled that blacks were to be enrolled only to replace blacks that had left the ECW. In 1935 President Roosevelt issued an executive order instructing that blacks be given official positions in the ECW. [53]

The War Department and the Park Service moved slowly to implement the president's directive in forming an all-black company (including officers and supervisors). It was decided that the black company in Gettysburg National Military Park be established as a model all-black camp. That camp would then be evaluated to see the feasibility of placing other camps under black supervision. Full conversion from white to black supervisors was completed in 1940 when the last white supervisors at Gettysburg National Military Park were replaced by black foremen. The project superintendent, three graduate engineers designing park CCC projects, the camp commander and his staff all were black. Using black enrollees under black supervision was deemed successful by the park superintendent and the Army. The only other all-black company under the jurisdiction of the Park Service was established in 1937 at Elmira, New York, as part of the state parks program. [54]

During 1936 the War Department decided to move black camps from the mountainous areas of Virginia to the Tidewater region. Many of the camps were administered by the Park Service, and the move created a number of problems. Local communities expressed concern about bringing in blacks as did some park superintendents. The superintendent of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Battlefields Memorial National Military Park complained that continuation of the park's historical education program was impossible using black enrollees because of the hostility of local whites toward blacks. In Mammoth Cave National Park a black camp was scheduled to be relocated from one area of the park to another. Local opposition to this move was so strong that the camp was moved to Ft. Knox, leaving Mammoth Cave National Park with two less camps and unable to accomplish planned work. [55]

As the CCC faced reductions in 1937 and 1938, Director Fechner decided to reduce black camps in proportion to white camps and to locate all-black camps on national park and national forest lands. Meanwhile black organizations and newspapers kept pressure on the administration to integrate the camps. Moving black camps into areas formerly occupied by white camps led to protests by white communities in Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, and North Carolina. Once the black camps were in place, they usually were accepted by the community and carried out the work program admirably. Yet in the South it proved difficult to use blacks in any public contact work, such as guiding tours or fee collection. [56]

Pressure by black groups mounted in 1939 to integrate CCC camps. The Park Service attitude toward racial segregation was that state laws and local customs would be followed in the matter of segregation. Thus, the southern camps remained segregated while some of the northern camps were integrated. During the year a racial crisis arose at Sequoia National Park, California, when fights broke out between white and black camps. The park superintendent claimed that mixing whites and blacks on fire lines created situations that could only lead to further racial incidents. He recommended that the black enrollees be transferred to areas where they would not come into contact with white enrollees. Instead Park Service officials kept the black CCC camp in Sequoia, and no further incidents occurred. [57]

By 1940, 300,000 black youths and 30,000 black veterans had served in the CCC in 43 states. In the final years of the CCC the number of black camps continued to decrease. The major difficulty continued to be the placement of a black CCC company, particularly when it replaced white companies. [58] As Congress debated the termination of the CCC, the black press rallied behind the program's continuation. The black-oriented newspaper The Pittsburg Courier commented:

However, the closing of the camps at this time will work the greatest hardship on Negro youths who have been in the camps acquiring additional training and who had planned to enroll in these camps for the allotted time until they were old enough to serve in the armed forces.

The unwillingness of white industry to hire Negro youth accounts for the large number of colored still in the CCC. [59]


Last Modified: Tues, Apr 4 2000 07:08:48 am PDT

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