Off-duty in the Redwoods: Leisure Time in the Camps
It wasn't "all work and no play" around the CCC camps. The young men of the CCC still had plenty of energy outside of work hours to participate in organized sports, tour the local territory, take in some evening entertainment, and further their education. They had chores to do, too.
The CCC administration encouraged organized sports. Teams played against other CCC camps and local teams. Russian Gulch's basketball team is shown above, a fine team of players all over 6'2", according to the photo album caption for this shot. Boxing was very popular at all the CCC camps. It was a sporting event and also a way to settle disagreements. The photo below, taken at the Humboldt Redwoods CCC camp in Dyerville, could be of either sport or two-fisted diplomacy.
The boys loved their baseball, both as players and fans. The Humboldt Redwoods camp fielded a winning team, pictured at the top of this page. The camp newsletter article at right indicates that the Humboldt Redwoods baseball team was integrated long before major league baseball, until the "colored" members of company 925 were moved to a segregated company at Camp San Pablo Dam. (Click on the link after the article image to read a transcription.)
In-Camp Leisure-time Activities
The Humboldt Redwoods camp newsletters contain accounts of weenie roasts and movie nights put on by camp management for the enrollees. There were also occasional lecturers, and an ongoing education program.
Initially, many camp commanders started education programs when they discovered how little schooling some of the enrollees possessed--a fair number were illiterate. Within the first year after President Roosevelt created the CCC, education became an official element of the program. Soon every camp had its own educational advisor. Enrollees could learn to read, complete a high school diploma, or acquire new skills toward future employment. Some classes were more for fun than work or education goals. The educational advisors also set up libraries for the edification and entertainment of enrollees.
The boys organized some of their own leisure activities. Musicians formed bands, sometimes performing at other area camps and local functions, and groups put on theatrical productions. (Raymond Burr, later of "Perry Mason" and "Ironsides" TV fame, served in the CCC at Calaveras Big Trees State Park and acted in amateur productions there.)
Free Time Outside Camp
The CCC boys had free time on the weekends to pursue activities outside camp. Movies in town were popular, as was visiting young women--in town, or (at Humboldt Redwoods) in the Burlington campground, which was conveniently next door to the CCC camp!
Camp commanders would sometimes arrange recreational excursions, such as trucking the Humboldt Redwoods enrollees to the swimming beach at Richardson Grove in the summertime. The photo at right is of Richardson Grove in the 1930s.
The CCC boys had occasional multi-day leaves. They would visit local towns, travel to see more of the area they were stationed in, take a quick train trip farther away, or even backpack. For the many boys who were from the big city, the state park environment was a new, fascinating, and sometimes frightening experience.
Days off weren't all fun and games; there were still chores to be done. The CCC camps in parks and national forests had rather primitive facilities, such as the "laundry room" above. The beds weren't exactly Ritz-Carlton, either—
A Note on African American Corps members:
Young men of all races could enroll in the CCC, and California camps were initially integrated. Though there were some complaints from neighboring towns and a small number of incidents in camps, in the majority of the state's integrated camps the enrollees got along fine. Complaints and altercations were more common in other parts of the country. This led to nation-wide segregation starting in July 1935, partially to protect the black enrollees and partially because some higher-ups in the CCC did not support integration.
The article below appeared in the Humboldt Redwoods camp newsletter after the African American enrollees were transferred to a segregated camp. (The use of the word "boy" in the article was not a racist insult; all the CCC enrollees were often referred to as "boys.") Ironically, the men of Camp San Pablo Dam did face a hostile community in nearby Richmond, and they were eventually moved to another area.
For more information on the African-American CCC experience, see the New Deal Network website or the 1999 book African Americans in the Civilian Conservation Corps, by Olen Cole, Jr. The latter focuses mainly on California enrollees and camps.
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