- Texans and the Civilian Conservation Corps:Personal Memories
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[End Page 144]
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of the most visible and successful of the New Deal programs of President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) in Texas as well as the rest of the nation. The CCC in its nine years of existence employed more than 2.5 million young men from ages eighteen to twenty-five. The program arose to combat some of the effects of the Great Depression, the greatest economic crisis the United States has ever faced. Unemployment shot from 3.14 percent in 1929 to 24.75 percent in 1933. One author claims it was more than 28 percent. Just before the United States entered World War II, it still stood at 14.45 percent, well above current government estimates. The economic hardships experienced in the 1930s are hard to comprehend for younger Americans. There were no social safety nets to cope with the crisis in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Government-sponsored employment on the scale of the CCC was unimaginable in the United States prior to the stock market crash on October 29, 1929. The American people were ready for different ideas, and President Roosevelt seemed to be the perfect leader to bring them to life.1
The newly elected president took office with many promises and ideas but little else. A newspaper cartoonist picked the term "New Deal" out of FDR's presidential nomination acceptance speech, and it became the name applied to any and all programs suggested by FDR's administration. The programs were as varied as the different populations that the Roosevelt Administration aimed them at. The Public Works Administration, [End Page 145] designed to stimulate heavy industry, gave money for projects costing more than $25,000, while the Federal Emergency Relief Administration gave federal monies to the states to distribute to the needy. For every federal dollar, the state was required to provide three. The largest project was the Tennessee Valley Authority, an experiment in regional planning. It funded the building of dams on the Tennessee River, affecting the economies of six states. Smaller projects included the Federal Music Project, which gave unemployed performers jobs, and the Federal Art Projects, which allowed artists to continue producing their art although practically no one could afford to buy it. Aimed at both urban and rural young men (the program was not open to women), one of the most popular of the programs was the rural-based CCC, which began in 1933.2
The CCC had three objectives: enrollment of workers so as not to interfere with normal employment; grants to states for relief work; and the development of a broad public works program to create jobs. The planners designed the CCC to be involved in forest protection and conservation, soil conservation, recreational development, aid to grazing and wildlife, reclamation, drainage, erosion control, flood control, and related projects.3 Evidence of these public works can still be seen across the country.
The qualifications for enrollment in the CCC initially required men to be single and between eighteen to twenty-five years of age. Their families had to be on some type of public relief, and they had to be willing to send part of their paychecks home to their dependents. The pay was $30 a month, with the families receiving an allotment of $22 to $25 from this money. The enrollees kept the remaining $5 to $8 for their own use. These monetary requirements changed several times during the life of the organization; only the age and marital restrictions remained the same.4
Statistics abound that show how much money went to these young men and how much they sent home to their families. The missing dimension of the story that this article addresses is the effect the CCC had on the lives of the young men in Texas...