Camp Life

While living in the CCC camps, men received nutritious meals, uniform clothing, adequate shelter, and plenty of opportunities for education and entertainment.

The Way it Was

The daily routine at the CCC camp provided discipline, training, and structure for enrollees, while also ensuring strict adherence to immediate project goals. The typical workday involved input and direction from both the U.S. Army and affiliated federal agencies—National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Soil Conservation Service, and others. While the format varied at each camp depending on the nature of the work, the basic program called for U.S. Army personnel to oversee living arrangements. Thus, the enrollees followed an early-morning military regimen that included reveille, breakfast, and policing of the camp. Workers then drew their tools and reported to job sites under the supervision of federal agency representatives. Following lunch back at camp or on the job site, enrollees returned to their field assignments until the late afternoon. Back at the barracks, supervision shifted again to the U.S. Army and the day concluded with supper, followed by study programs, library time, recreation, including competitive sports, and eventually lights out.

African American Contributions

For all its progressive accomplishments, the CCC mirrored the milieu in which it existed. Although begun as an integrated program albeit with a lack of focused recruitment of African Americans, the CCC bowed to social pressures and segregated the companies in 1935. The few African Americans remaining in the white camps were assigned special support duties, primarily kitchen and camp maintenance tasks, but remained ineligible to participate in general programs, like educational classes and sports teams. African Americans in the all-black camps performed the identical tasks as their white counterparts—fighting fires, reducing soil erosion, and developing parks. Some companies had to deal not only with local citizen opposition to their presence in the community, but also with the relocation orders that often ensued. Despite these adversities, African Americans made lasting contributions to the enduring cultural landscape of the New Deal era. Sadly, many of the improvements made to the parks by African American units remained off limits to them and their families until the passage of civil rights legislation decades later.

A Working Education

Although initially not a priority within the CCC, formal educational programs quickly became an integral part of camp life. They served to further broad goals of personal growth and development, while also providing important structure for after-work hours in the camps. Often conducted in partnership with local schools or businesses, and utilizing moonlighting or unemployed educators, paid by the Works Progress Administration (WPA), courses ranged from remedial academic training to social skills. Typical classes included auto mechanics, business math, typing, dancing, etiquette, physical education, art, and music. The formal educational programs served to complement on-the-job vocational training, as well as ancillary programs such as camp newspapers, orchestras, and libraries.