In March 1933 Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt signed into law a bill creating the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC addressed two issues that reflected glaring deficiencies in the country’s management: unemployment and the nation’s failure to conserve natural resources. Mississippi struggled on both fronts, and after some initial misgivings about the New Deal in general, the state warmly embraced the federal dollars the program brought.
While some states struggled to consistently fill their CCC allotments, Mississippi routinely received more than its share, largely because of the leadership of director George Sadka, who oversaw Mississippi’s CCC for virtually all of its existence. Moreover, though unofficial policy entirely sought to exclude African Americans from the CCC’s relief efforts, Sadka fought to have allotments benefit all Mississippians, and thirteen of the state’s camps ultimately were designated for African Americans.
Between 1933 and 1942 the Mississippi CCC offered direct relief by employing approximately sixty thousand men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-four—roughly 12 percent of that population. Enrollees received thirty dollars per month, the majority of which they sent back home. The CCC spent sixty-one million dollars in Mississippi and allotted another fifteen million dollars to dependents of enrollees. CCC camps also indirectly affected nearby communities, since each camp cost approximately twenty-two thousand dollars to build and five thousand dollars per month to maintain. Local businesses and farmers supplied much of the materials and services in support of local camps.
In addition to economic relief, the CCC considerably enhanced Mississippi’s infrastructure and natural surroundings. The CCC built and maintained ten state parks: Leroy Percy, Tombigbee, Clarkco, Legion, Tishomingo, Holmes County, Roosevelt, Spring Lake (Wall Doxey), Percy Quinn, and Magnolia (now part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore). CCC enrollees ran 2,689 miles of telephone lines and constructed 2,346 miles of roads. They planted 17 million trees for erosion control and 137 million trees in reforestation. One of the most enduring legacies of the CCC, however, may be its introduction of kudzu in an effort to halt soil erosion.
Like most New Deal programs, the CCC did not fundamentally alter Mississippi’s social or economic systems, nor was it designed to do so. But the CCC did significantly aid a portion of Mississippi’s young male population that might otherwise have slipped through the New Deal relief net, helping thousands of families during a time of stifling depression. By pumping almost eighty million dollars into the state from 1933 to 1942, the CCC significantly boosted Mississippi’s beleaguered economy. And while the CCC did not undo decades of devastating natural resource policies, it gave Mississippi a system of state parks, salvaged thousands of acres of Piney Woods timber, and saved tons of Delta topsoil. Similarly, while it did not challenge the state’s entrenched segregation, it did benefit both black and white Mississippians.
- Justin C. Eaddy, Journal of Mississippi History (Summer 2003)
- Andrew C. Harper, “The Civilian Conservation Corps and Mississippi: A New Deal Success Story” (master’s thesis, University of Southern Mississippi, 1992)