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Oklahoma Memories

End of CCC

2010-03-01

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"...and I was so desperate to get in, and I wanted in so bad that I got a little mixed up on, I didn't know my, didn't try to learn too much on what year I was born, and I got in two years younger, but they didn't say anything."

That is Toney Lackey who, as a teenager in the 1930s, was desperate for a job.

From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.

The Civilian Conservation Corp was one of the most successful of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs in the 1930s. As the U.S. fell further and further into depression during the early years of the `30s, many were predicting the complete collapse of the country. The economy was already, for all intents and purposes, gone with more than 1,500 bank failures in 1932 alone and an unemployment rate that reached 25% nationally with some cities reporting up to 80% of their workforce unable to find jobs. Roosevelt realized that he must first at least take care of the most basic needs of the people, and the CCC was one way of doing this. The Civilian Conservation Corps enlisted young men usually from urban environments who would otherwise be out of work and then put them to work on various projects.

Toney Lackey was part of a large family; there were 13 kids in all. By the time he was in high school in the mid-1930s, he and his family were desperate. The family joined the Okies moving from Weatherford to California, but his father couldn't find work there so they came back to Oklahoma, settling on a farm east of Oklahoma City. It was then that he heard about the CCC and decided to join. The work was hard, but the pay was good.

"Thirty dollars a month. We sent twenty-five home, and we kept five dollars. Our bills was free, and our clothes, we got our clothes, too, army-type of clothes, sure did."

Lackey was sent to work on a project in Colorado, but within months he was sent back to Oklahoma City to work on a major project at Lincoln Park.

"It was a vision to build an amphitheatre at the end of the park which we did, as you know at the zoo. They wanted a zoo, then they wanted this lake. They made the lake, you know, then they dug, put in all the rocks for the animals' zoo. We planted all the shrubbery. Then as a vision that they build this amphitheatre at the end of it where they could have entertainment after they had visited the zoo."

For many young men, this was a good life. They all lived in CCC camps. Each camp had showers, latrines, mess halls, bunk houses, and recreation areas. Off time was spent with sports, reading, or writing letters home. Accounts from those enrolled in Oklahoma camps mostly report a very positive atmosphere with many of the kids recalling that the CCC was the only place where they could receive hot meals on a regular basis and had a safe place to sleep. The physical requirements were hard and usually involved working a shovel or pick but given the alternative, complaints it seems were relatively few among the thousands of young men who cycled through Oklahoma's program. The arrival of World War Two lifted the economy enough to make programs such as the CCC unnecessary, and it was in this week of 1942 on March 7th that the state's CCC program was officially terminated.

Many of the Oklahoma CCC projects are still in use today including facilities at Roman Nose Park, Beavers Bend, Robber's Cave, Sulphur, and Osage Hills just to name a few. The Oklahoma History Center features a statue of a CCC worker, Melvin Grant, near the front entrance. The Oklahoma History Center is located just east of the state capitol on NE 23rd Street in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memoriesis a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to the collection, preservation, and sharing of our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.