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How the Civilian Conservation Corps Worked

Life as a Civilian Conservation Corps Boy
CCC boys rotated kitchen duty. Here, men wait in line for food at Camp Sanders in Mount Herndon, La.
CCC boys rotated kitchen duty. Here, men wait in line for food at Camp Sanders in Mount Herndon, La.

The U.S. Army was responsible for building and running the camps that housed the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) boys. The camps typically consisted of four barracks, each housing 40 to 50 boys [source: Jackson]. Each camp also included a mess hall, bathhouse and recreation building in addition to officers' quarters. Life in the camps was very structured. Every morning began with wake-up bugle calls, and the boys had to stand in formation and be on time for meals. They were also required to bathe, shave and keep their hair short.

By 1932, the CCC began incorporating education programs in these camps, and the Army constructed buildings for night classes. Education made the boys more employable, and the classes helped the Army structure evening time, when the young men would tend to get restless. What's more, the education programs created even more jobs in the CCC -- teachers were recruited [source: Barry]. The nature of the programs varied from camp to camp, and some were more successful than others. But by the time the CCC ended, 400,000 illiterate boys had learned to read and write [source: CCC Legacy].

Boys had the opportunity to join sports programs as well, including baseball, boxing and, in some camps, basketball. Major league baseball scouts frequented the CCC games and recruited 20 boys, one of whom was future Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst.

A quota on the CCC recruitment restricted the number of blacks who were accepted to 10 percent. Although blacks represented 10 percent of the general U.S. population at this time, the black community suffered disproportionately in the Great Depression [source: New Deal Network]. Camps were racially integrated at first, but this changed in 1935, when Southern-born director Robert Fechner witnessed "unfortunate relationships" forming in the integrated camps and was worried about the backlash from letting black workers into white towns [source: Cole]. Thus, most of the CCC's 200,000 black recruits were moved to segregated camps [source: Jackson].

The CCC also recruited a total of 80,000 Native Americans. Instead of living in the Army camps, the Native Americans lived in their own communities and worked on projects controlled by tribal leaders.

FDR made an exception to the age restrictions for CCC recruitment in May 1933 when he signed an executive order authorizing veterans to join. Approximately 250,000 veterans were allowed into the CCC. At first, these CCC members were also segregated to do work according to their age and ability in their own separate camps.