Collierville's Soil Soldiers: The Untold Story of the New Deal in Collierville (1935-1940)
"I propose to create a Civilian Conservation Corps to be used in simple work...More important, however, than the material gains will be the moral and spiritual value of such work."
March 21, 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) began as part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal on March 31, 1933. The purpose of the CCC was to protect declining natural resources and provide job skills to increasing numbers of unemployed men between the ages of 17 and 23. Veterans from WWI, although they were older, were also allowed to work in the CCC. From 1933-1942, over 3 million young men enrolled in the CCC. Tennessee supported 46 CCC companies by July 1937. By the time the CCC disbanded, more than 70,000 Tennesseans had served.
Enlistment in the CCC was for a minimum of 6 months with the option to reenroll. "Enrollees," as they were called, were paid $30 per month. Young men were required to be in good physical condition and worked on a variety of projects including planting trees, building bridges, and curtailing erosion.
CCC camps were built and supervised by US Army personnel. Enrollees wore modified Army surplus uniforms and followed fairly regimented camp routines. Camp facilities were determined by the type of work performed. Barracks, officers' quarters, mess hall, recreation hall, and education building were standard facilities.
In the early years of the CCC some camps were integrated, but prompted by local complaints and the views of the US Army and CCC administrators, integrated CCC camps were disbanded in July 1935. Eleven African American CCC camps were established in Tennessee, two of which were in Shelby County.
African American Camps in Shelby County
Collierville Camp 3562 SCS-2, consisting of 210 African American recruits from the surrounding area, was established on August 26, 1935. The camp filled an 8 acre lot located south of the railroad tracks in the northwest corner of Byhalia and Shelby Drive. Project Director H. N. Estes managed the camp work which was restricted to soil erosion prevention.
Local landowners could apply to the CCC camp to have their land evaluated and improved to prevent erosion. Click here to view a Collierville Herald article announcing the project on July 12, 1935. One of the first projects worked on was the James Hammond 119 acre farm, located just south of Germantown. The Museum obtained the contract for work housed at the National Archives at Atlanta between Mr. Hammond and the Soil Conservation Service. Click here to see a map of the Hammond Farm and plans for contour tilling, terracing, crop rotation, and other conservation farming practices.
Farmers were responsible for providing the land and some materials, while the CCC provided the manual labor, tools, and instruction. RD Brown (pictured here) was one Collierville resident enrolled in the local camp from ca. 1935-1937.
Evening educational programs were offered to all enrollees. The education schedule for November 28, 1936 at Collierville Camp 3462 lists more than 26 classes (pictured here). For this inspection period, there was a 100% participation rate among 163 enrollees.
Collierville Camp 3462 sourced their fruit and vegetables locally, but received most of their food from Ft. Oglethorpe, Ga. The camp inspection report in November 1936 found an average weight gain of 12 lbs. per enrollee in the first 6 months. Pictured here is a menu included in the camp report, which includes Thanksgiving dinner on November 26th.
Camp SCS-2 operated until 1940 when it moved to Brighton, TN.
Image: CCC Collierville Camp.
CCC camp 1464-SP-10 initiated construction of T.O. Fuller State Park in 1938. Fuller State Park is 1,138 acres of mostly forest located in South West Memphis on Mitchell Road. The park is named in honor of Dr. Thomas O. Fuller, who spent his life empowering and educating African Americans. It was the second state park in the nation that was open to African Americans. During excavation for a proposed swimming pool in 1940, CCC workers unearthed evidence of a prehistoric village. The site has since been developed as the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa.
Use this pamphlet to discover how the legacy of the CCC continues today and some of the resources available for future study.
The New Deal in Collierville
The CCC camp was one of two New Deal projects occurring in Collierville in the 1930s. The historic Collierville High School is a Classical Revival-styled two-story school that was constructed over a period of 4 years. The project began with $250,000 from CWA (Civil Works Administration) in 1933-34, shifted to TERA (Temporary Emergency Relief Administration) in 1935, and was completed by WPA workers in 1935-36. Today, the historic building serves as the central office for the Collierville School System.