Black CCC members' role in creating Pennsylvania's state parks featured on WPSU-TV's Keystone Stories
WPSU’s TV and Digital series, Keystone Stories, explores the people, places and culture that make Central Pennsylvania unique. Monday’s episode highlights the Pennsylvania state park system. We’re bringing you part of the section about the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps in those parks in the 1930s. The CCC was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s plan to get people back to work at the height of the Great Depression. You’ll start by hearing from park naturalist Eric Rensel, historian Paul Fagley, and narrator Will Price.
A lot of folks were out of work. And it's hard to feel good about yourself if you can't really contribute. And so a lot of men were very frustrated and wanting to do, and this was the opportunity.
The young man had to be unemployed. He had to be unmarried. The idea was he would support his parents and family. So they generally had to be below the poverty line.
He made a dollar a day. They were called the "dollar a day boys." You were sending $25 a month home to your family. May not seem like much, but it made a difference..
Narrator Will Price:
Truckloads of young men transported into central Pennsylvania got to work transforming ridges and valleys scarred by clearcut logging and forest fires.
The CCC carries the nickname Roosevelt's Tree Army because nationwide they planted over 3 billion trees.
You planted things in straight rows, three pick handles apart, you know, that's how it went. A lot of the parks were not parks until the CCC created them.
Narrator Alex Rabb:
In the middle of Rothrock State Forest is Penn Roosevelt State Park in Centre County. Archaeologist Kate Peresolak is leading a dig at the former site of CCC camp S-62.
We have been finding some CCC related artifacts, some of the basic lifestyle hygiene items that anybody would have in the ‘30s. “Ponds Extract Company, Made in the USA.” No way! We found a tiny little ointment tube, it was maybe an inch wide and then some other artifacts that we haven't identified their function yet.
Narrator Will Price:
The project is an effort to shed light on overlooked contributions, for this was a segregated camp home to company 361C. The C stood for “colored,” still an official term.
Initially when they were pulling men into the camps, Roosevelt did not want to segregate it, but there was enough pushback that the camps ended up segregated.
Segregation was still legal at the time. This is from the Supreme Court decision Plessy versus Ferguson. As long as they were equal, they could be segregated.
There was still separate drinking fountains and separate camps and they weren’t allowed to work alongside each other. The segregated camps were often placed in more isolated areas because, unfortunately, there was still some element of the public that did not like the existence of those African-American segregated camps nearby in the community.
There's an important story to be told about African-American people who came from the city and urban areas, who came out and put in work to craft natural spaces in a way that gives people an opportunity to get outside. 80, 90, 100 years later and beyond.
We're amidst the trees that they planted, especially the Norway spruces that you can see behind me. They built much of the state forest road system and many of the trails that exist today. The amount of man hours of work they did, I think it would be hard to measure.
I think there's a lot of reckoning that we have to do with understanding African-American/Black people's roles in the construction of this country and there's an opportunity to educate and remind people that these spaces were created by people who may or may not have been welcome, but they came anyway. They put in effort and they have a lasting legacy.
I feel like everywhere I look, there's a stone walkway, a log pavilion, a stone dam. So, yeah, I feel like the fingerprints are everywhere.
We are now 90 years out from the beginning of the program, and we are still benefiting from the work of the CCC.
The effort that went into the park years ago is important to realize that it wasn't, you know, the government that built it, it was men and boys that were in need. Your families, your ancestors.
You also heard from park manager Mike Dinsmore and Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Press Secretary Wesley Robinson. Tune into WPSU-TV Monday at 9 p.m. to learn more about Pennsylvania’s state park system.