Education and Experiences in Kentucky CCC Camps
One interesting feature of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) newsletter collection (MSS 218) at KHS, is that it can offer some insight into what everyday life in the camps might have been like. In addition to highlighting the projects the camps worked on, the CCC newsletters detail the entertainment and educational opportunities for CCC enrollees in the camps.
One of the major goals of the CCC was to provide educational and skills training to prepare enrollees for a life of work outside of the camps. A significant issue that the educational staff, whom were often teachers sent through another New Deal program the WPA, attempted to tackle was illiteracy in the camps. This staple program throughout many of the camps aimed to increase the reading abilities of many of the young enrollees who might have left school early in their life. The Cloverleaf, a newsletter for Louellen, Kentucky encouraged men to start attending literacy classes and mentions that they were expected to have a WPA teacher in the camp soon. According to a 1937 issue of the Menifee County Greenbrier News, the educational programs at the CCC camps nationwide aided many enrollees through basic educational programs, “50,000 illiterates have been taught to read and write; more than 300,000 enrollees have been better grounded in grade school subjects; over 200,000 have pursued high-school courses, while 50,000 have taken college courses.” The Goose Rock Gazette comments on the ability of the enrollees who did not finish high school to take courses in order to obtain their diploma while in the camps. The Cumberland Falls Spray also mentions a variety of courses offered at the camp in Corbin, Kentucky. In addition to literacy education, courses offered included first aid, auto mechanics, blacksmithing, carpentry, cement construction, blueprinting and drafting, stone masonry and surveying.
Many of these classes were aimed at providing enrollees with a level of education or skill that could help them obtain jobs once they had left the CCC camps. A particular point of pride in many of the newsletters was when former enrollees found work outside the camps. Newsletters like the Greenbrier News frequently mentioned former enrollees who had been able to find work once they had left the CCC camp. These comments were most likely meant to not only update enrollees on the lives of those who had left, but to inspire other men to attend educational and vocational training classes. Although these classes that were held after a day of work were voluntary, they were frequently pushed by the newsletters to make the most of one’s time in the CCC.
Life in the CCC camps for enrollees consisted of more than just work and educational classes. The CCC newsletters often mention entertainment activities for enrollees both in the camps and in surrounding communities. The camp newsletters often emphasized these entertainment opportunities for enrollees. This not only informed the men of local events in the area, but also highlighted positive aspects of life in the CCC beyond just an employment opportunity. Many of the Civilian Conservation Corps newsletters mention local dances that were held either in the camps themselves or in nearby communities that enrollees could attend. Films were also regularly shown and ranged from educational films to older Hollywood productions. The Peckerwood-Junior, the CCC newsletter out of Powell County, mentions the showing of an older silent film “The Lucky Devils” on the side of the education building inside of the camp.
Camp newsletters also frequently included a sports page that detailed local games and results involving enrollees at CCC camps. The camp newsletters in our collection often mention baseball matches between other CCC camps as well as local teams. Other sports included basketball, boxing, volleyball and tennis as well as games of pool and ping pong among many other sports. The Mammoth Eagle, the newsletters for one of the camps assigned to the Mammoth Cave project in Edmondson County, details the camp’s successes in basketball. The team connected to The Mammoth Eagle “enjoyed a very successful season” in 1937, winning seventeen out of fourteen basketball games and the championship for African American teams in the Fort Knox District.
Although African American and white camps would have had many of the same core elements, the CCC newsletters do allude to differences in experiences, particularly regarding interactions with other camps and the local communities. Although there were some partially desegregated camps, as in the case of many veteran camps, the CCC camps in Kentucky were largely segregated. While the newsletters do not often comment directly on issues of race and segregation, there are some notable exceptions. The Broadcast, the newspaper for the CCC camp in Hardinsburg mentions that there were African American CCC enrollees in the camp, but that they were moved to Mammoth Cave as the white enrollees could not as “Kentuckians” forget the color of their skin. While many of the newsletters mention similar work, training and entertainment activities for enrollees regardless of race, as readers we can still get a sense of some of the differences in what life would have been like for enrollees in Kentucky.
One notable element that almost all the CCC newsletters seem to have in common is a “humor” or “camp news” type sections that would often provide jocular commentary in the form of jokes and cartoons. Many of these cartoons were based on inside jokes that often teased other enrollees. Several sections in CCC camp newsletters comment on camp “gossip” as well and include some obvious as well as coded references to other enrollees or leaders in the camps. One example of this can be found in The Quacker, the CCC newsletter for a camp in Clay County, which mentions that “Manuel H. Neeley has not as yet claimed [to] be related to the Prince of Wales, heir to the throne of England, but it is expected soon.”
The newsletters of the CCC in Kentucky highlight many aspects of life within the camps and local communities. They stress not only the importance of the physical work on the projects that the camps were involved in, but also the educational and vocational training that was available. The entertainment activities available in the camps also emphasized to potential readers that these camps were not only a place to work and learn, but also a place to live in a social environment that promoted community and recreation.
Alexander, Benjamin F. 2018. The New Deal’s Forest Army : How the Civilian Conservation Corps Worked. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
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.
The Cloverleaf. Volume 2 Number 9. October 22, 1936. Company 3536, Camp P-75 Louellen, Kentucky.
Greenbrier News. Volume 4 Number 6. June 30, 1937. Company 1539, Camp F-8. Frenchburg, Kentucky.
Goose Rock Gazette. Volume 1 Number 6. October 30, 1937. Company 3530, Camp P-80. Goose Rock, Kentucky.
Cumberland Falls Spray. Volume 1 Number 5. November 25, 1936. Company 1578, Camp SP-1, Corbin, Kentucky.
Peckerwood-Junior. May 28, 1938 Company 1559, Camp F-9. Stanton, Kentucky.
The Broadcast. Number 111. December 8, 1934. Company 1516, Camp PE-63, Hardinsburg, Kentucky.
The Mammoth Eagle. Volume 3. March, 1937. Company 510. Edmonson, Kentucky.
The Quacker. Volume 1 Number 2. January, 1936. Company 3530. Camp Will Rogers, Garrard, Kentucky.