Introduction

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California CCC cooks, ca. 1933. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Segregated CCC Programs

Oscar De Priest, an African American Congressman from Illinois, added an amendment to the original legislation authorizing the CCC stating: "That in employing citizens for the purpose of this Act, no discrimination shall be made on account of race, color, and creed." This was an important anti-discrimination measure, and did ensure that some African Americans were employed by the CCC. But in practice, there was great discrimination during the selection process and running of the CCC camps for African Americans. A few early CCC camps were somewhat integrated, but this soon changed as the national CCC administration established separate camps for African Americans.

The limited inclusion of African Americans in the CCC was an injustice in the context of a broad climate of discrimination and crisis for black Americans, who desperately needed work relief programs. In the early 1930s, unemployment for African Americans was soaring, and the people who were unemployed were already existing in conditions of extreme poverty. During the height of the Great Depression, while twenty-five percent of white men were unemployed, African American unemployment reached fifty percent.

Native Americans were also given a limited opportunity to participate in special CCC programs developed in collaboration with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Native American CCC enrollees often focused on much-needed infrastructure and improvements on reservations. Out of the over three million men who participated in the CCC program for much needed work relief, only 200,000 African American and 80,000 Native American men were able to enroll.