Friday, June 30, 2017

Reformism: The Civilian Conservation Corps


"The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough to those who have too little." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed, unmarried men from relief families as part of the New Deal. Originally for young men ages 18 to 25, it was eventually expanded to young men ages 17 to 28. Robert Fechner was the first director of the agency. He was succeeded by James McEntee following Fechner's death. The CCC was a major part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal that provided unskilled manual labor jobs related to the conservation and development of natural resources in rural lands owned by federal, state, and local agencies.

The CCC was designed to provide jobs for young men, and to relieve families who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression in the United States. At the same time, it implemented a general natural resource conservation program in every state and territory. Maximum enrollment at any one time was around three hundred thousand. Over the course of its nine years in operation, three million young men participated in the CCC, which provided them with shelter, clothing, and food, together with a small wage of thirty dollars, or about $547 equivalent to 2015 dollars. However, because these men were single, most of their wage, approximately twenty-five dollars, was sent home to their families.

The American public made the CCC the most popular of all the New Deal programs. Sources written at the time claimed an individual's enrollment in the CCC led to an improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased employability. The CCC also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation's natural resources, as well as, the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for the protection and development of the nation's natural resources.

During the period of time in which the CCC was functional, enrollees planted nearly three billion trees to help reforest America, constructed trails, lodges and related facilities in more than eight hundred parks nationwide, and upgraded most state parks, as well as, updating forest fire fighting methods. They also built a network of service buildings and public roadways out to remote areas. The CCC also operated separate programs for veterans. Despite its popular support, the CCC was never a permanent agency. It depended on emergency and temporary Congressional legislation and funding to operate. This meant that from time to time, for brief periods, there were occasions when the program was non operational. By 1942, with World War II and the draft in full swing, the need for work relief declined, and Congress voted to close the program permanently.

So, how Does this Relate to Reformism?

During the Great Depression, which occurred during the height of the Jim Crow Era, the CCC operated on a segregated basis. During the CCC's tenure, approximately fifteen thousand Native Americans participated in the program, helping them to weather the Great Depression, as well. Here is the first reason that this program can be said to be Reformist in nature. Native Americans, as is well known, were the first people to inhabit the Americas, yet during the Great Depression, the CCC only saw fit, as mentioned, to help fifteen thousand young men out of a population of 332,397 total people.

Further, these men were not allowed to work with whites, and though they were paid for their work, it is never mentioned that they were not paid as well as the white men that were in the program. For some reason, that detail is commonly omitted from the standard account of the story, as one might be able to take notice of in the section above. Such details always manage to get magically smudged out somehow. It is also never mentioned that once World War II broke out, Native American enlistment in the American Armed Forces far outweighed their allowed participation in the CCC. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other.

Here, a family of African American sharecroppers works to make ends meet during the Great Depression.

So, how else might this relate to Reformism? As was already mentioned, during the Great Depression, which occurred during the height of the Jim Crow Era, the CCC operated on a segregated basis. Now, it is important to note that FDR wanted his program to help everyone; however, he could not be everywhere at all times. The CCC was a federally funded program, yes; but, the states were given control over its daily operations. The states then delegated control over the program even further to smaller local governments. This basically meant that it was determinate upon local businessmen and political leaders who got CCC jobs and who did not, and it is well known that the Great Depression hit minorities much harder than it did whites.

Throughout the Great Depression, white unemployment numbers were near twenty-five percent. For minorities, such as African Americans, Latin Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and others; however, those numbers sometimes reached nearly fifty percent. Of all these groups of people, the group that was able to make it through the Great Depression without having to feel the sting of hunger quite as badly was African American sharecroppers. However, though they did not have to worry about being in debt to the federal government, they were most always in debt to their local landlords and in constant worry that they might be the next victim of a wild eyed lynch mob that the federal government was not yet prepared to prosecute. See, the government gives to the people in one hand and takes away from them in the other. 

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