Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The Morrow Brothers of Macomb, Illinois, and the Civilian Conservation Corps

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The Morrow Brothers of Macomb, Illinois, and the Civilian Conservation Corps

Article excerpt

When asked how they first found out about the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)7 four of the five Morrow brothers of central Illinois gave the same answer. "My brother told me." It often happened that siblings joined the CCC together and sometimes even served in the same camp together, but the Morrow brothers joined at different times and served at different camps. Their assignments took some of them from the flatland farms of Illinois, to the far north woods of Wisconsin, to the sagebrush deserts of Nevada and Oregon. Their experience collectively provides a unique cross-section of the many ways in which the CCC changed the forests, farmlands, parks, and ranchlands of America. The story of the Morrow brother is also an example of how a new federal relief program became a lifesaver to families across the United States.

For many young adults growing up during the Great Depression, the CCC not only gave them a job but also gave them a degree of hope for a better future. Of all the New Deal relief programs the Civilian Conservation Corps can rightly be called one of the most successful. In the nine years of operation ending in 1942 the program enrolled almost three million men. Their mission was an ambitious one. Dubbed Franklin Roosevelt's "Tree Army" the men were sent to every state as part of a land conservation effort that had never been attempted before on a national scale. Figure 1.

The Civilian Conservation Corps was the brainchild of President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of his New Deal program begun in 1933 to bring relief to an economy in the midst of a crisis. Wth unemployment at 25 percent of the workforce his "brain trust" of idea men came up with a variety of programs designed to arrest the downward spiral of severe deflation. In a whirlwind of legislative action Roosevelt proposed and Congress approved a number of programs and agencies. Some of them such as the Emergency Banking Act and the Farm Credit Act were aimed at dealing with the financial meltdown resulting from the stock market crash of 1929. Other programs were directed at relief in the form of jobs for unemployed workers. There was the Federal Emergency Relief Administration that made money available to the states to help the jobless. There also was the Civil Works Administration and Public Works Administration that provided money for road building and other construction projects. Then there was the Emergency Conservation Work Act (ECW). Within the ECW was the mechanism for setting up a cadre of young adults who went out to the forests and farm fields of America and engaged in a variety of conservation projects intended to restore the environmental health of the country. The reward for the young CCC men (known as enrollees) was a paying job, free room and board, free medical care, and the chance to learn a trades skill that could become useful in the job market after they left the organization.

Changes in eligibility were instituted later in the program but in the beginning enrollment in the CCC was open to any unmarried and unemployed male between eighteen and twenty-five years old. They had to be willing to sign up for a minimum of six months. It was possible to extend the enlistment in six months intervals to a maximum of two years service. They were paid thirty dollars per month with the stipulation that twentyfive dollars would be automatically sent home to their parents. The wages were low even by Great Depression standards, but in the face of crushing joblessness five dollars per month pocket money was still acceptable to thousands of teenagers. Enrollment was brisk.1

Unlike some of the other New Deal programs, the CCC had few detractors. The issue of fair wages for the young men and the impact it would have on adult workers and their labor unions was briefly debated in Washington but quickly died away. Another controversy hung on for years. There was the political problem of who ran the work camps and exercised control over the young men. …

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