Local Kentucky Communities and the CCC
As we continue our look into our Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) newsletter collection (MSS 218) at the Kentucky Historical Society, we can see the ways in which the CCC camps interacted with local communities. Starting in 1933, the CCC camps began housing enrollees who came from both Kentucky and other parts of the nation. Early enrollees lived in tents and later moved into more formal camps with permanent structures. Enrollees would go through a period of training and conditioning, typically at the Fort Knox camp, and then be sent to their next placement. Young men and veterans from all over the state whose families were on relief roles would apply for the CCC, and although they were often placed in nearby camps when possible, they might be sent to camps as far away as the West Coast. These camps would provide necessities for enrollees such as housing and food in addition to educational and vocational training and entertainment activities. The camps would typically have around 200 enrollees with most of the African American enrollees segregated into separate camps or occasionally separate quarters in the same camp. The CCC in Kentucky reached peak enrollment in the years of 1936- 1937. The highest totals for men enrolled over the course of the program is believed to be around 80,000 in the state of Kentucky.
In addition to highlighting the news of the camp for both enrollees and friends and family at home, the CCC newsletters also provide insight into the local community and their interactions with the CCC camps. The newsletters in many ways were meant to be advertisements, espousing the benefits of a CCC camp being in the area. Although many communities were generally accepting of the camps once they were there making improvements and contributing to the local economy, there was often some trepidation over the CCC when the camps first arrived.
Despite some negative interactions with locals, the camps were usually seen as an important source of income for local towns struggling during the Great Depression. The CCC newsletters emphasize this relationship with the inclusion of items like local business directories, which would promote the patronizing of local businesses by CCC enrollees. In addition to commenting on shared sports events between the enrollees and the community such as baseball games and entertainment events such as dances, the CCC newsletters also mention some of the charitable activities of the camps in local areas. One issue of Whozit, the paper for the camp at Nigh, Kentucky includes a selection of letters from local women to the camp praising the camps as “Wonderful and that they are helping the USA in many ways…” The letters also mention the work on trails, farm improvement and telephone lines. The Cloverleaf details a visit of 7th and 8th-grade students to the camp in Louellen, Kentucky, and an issue of Cumberland Falls Spray mentions enrollee’s participation in an Armistice Day parade in Corbin. Some newsletters such as the Camp Marion Pastime mention the donation of a Christmas tree on the part of the local CCC camp to the town. Another edition of the Camp Marion Past Time also mentions the newsletter’s role in promoting the works of the CCC to the greater community with the hopes that news of the camp’s community service might promote good will.
As the newsletters were largely aimed at keeping morale high within the camp and creating positive representation for those outside of the camps, the reaction of the communities to the presence of the camps requires some reading between the lines. While it is not surprising that the newsletters would comment on some of the more positive interactions with locals, they seem to leave out or only suggest the less than favorable responses. Several different publications do allude to issues or directly comment on the more negative interactions between locals and CCC boys. Some newsletters note the importance of good behavior in town, keeping neat appearances and shined shoes to show that the CCC enrollees were well mannered and respectful.
Many of the newsletters only hint at the reasons behind certain restrictions of the enrollees in local towns. A 1940 issue of The Elkhorn mentions that the community did not want enrollees of the local camp congregating in town and requested that they stay away from recreation areas. The newsletter does not mention a specific reason for this exclusion, although The Elkhorn seems to indicate it was related to the unkempt appearance of the CCC boys in the Hellier community. Many of the publications also seem to suggest that the reason behind some of the dislike of CCC men had more to do with the affections of local women than the enrollees themselves, although most mentions of this tension are veiled in humor. The Camp Shawnee Arrowhead mentions a “Special Police” force made up of enrollees that was meant to keep CCC men out of trouble in the town of Paintsville. Other CCC newsletters do go into more detail about problematic interactions with locals, with some of those interactions ending in violence. The August 1935 issue of the Broadcast mentions the murderous attack on a CCC enrollee Goodman in the town of Hardinsburg. According to the newsletter, Goodman who had gone into town for a Wild West Show was attacked by a drunken local, who was later imprisoned for his attack.
Even though the CCC newsletters occasionally hint that the relationships between locals and the camps were complicated, they often leave out some of the more persistent complaints of many locals about the CCC and the racial issues that impacted some of the camps. Among these issues was the fear that CCC enrollees would take jobs away from more skilled local men. Additionally, for the few camps that were made up of African American men, racial attitudes often created prejudices against the possible introduction of these camps in mostly white communities. These tensions coincided with other racial issues within the camps themselves, which are also rarely commented on in the newsletters.
The CCC newsletters indicate that despite difficult and sometimes violent interactions, the camps were generally viewed positively due to local improvement projects and economic support of local businesses. The CCC was generally regarded at the time as one of the more successful New Deal programs in the eyes of the nation through its visible works and the enrollment of several young men from desperate families.
Some of the oral history interviews conducted with Mammoth Cave CCC enrollees can be heard on our Passtheword website: http://passtheword.ky.gov/collection/civilian-conservation-corps-mammoth-cave-national-park-oral-history-project.
These recordings are also available at the Kentucky Historical Society.
Blakey, George T. 1989. Hard Times and New Deal in Kentucky: 1929-1939. University Press Of Kentucky.
Huddleston, Connie M. 2009. Kentucky’s Civilian Conservation Corps. Charleston, Sc: History Press.
Alexander, Benjamin F. 2018. The New Deal’s Forest Army: How the Civilian Conservation Corps Worked. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Whozit. Volume 2 No. 6. June 28th, 1937. Company 1519, Camp P-81, Nigh, Kentucky.
The Cloverleaf. Volume 2 Number 2. March 31, 1937. Company 3536, Camp P-75 Louellen, Kentucky.
Cumberland Falls Spray. Volume 1 Number 5. November 25, 1936. Company 1578, Camp SP-, Corbin, Kentucky.
Cumberland Falls Spray. Volume 1 Number 2. September 4, 1936. Company 1578, Corbin, Kentucky.
Camp Marion Pastime. January 1, 1935. Camp PE-59, Marion, Kentucky.
Camp Marion Past Time. Volume 2, Number 11. June 15, 1935. Camp PE-59, Marion, Kentucky.
The Elkhorn. November 1940. Company 1518, Camp S-82, Hellier, Kentucky.
Camp Shawnee Arrowhead. Volume 1. Number 4. February 29, 1936. Company 1518, Paintsville, Kentucky.
The Broadcast. August 1935. Company 1516, Camp SCS-11, Hardinsburg, Kentucky.