Propelled by the unprecedented poverty of the Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established an array of massive public works programs designed to provide direct relief to America's poor and unemployed. The New Deal's most tangible legacy may be the Civilian Conservation Corps's network of parks, national forests, scenic roadways, and picnic shelters that still mark the country's landscape. CCC enrollees, most of them unmarried young men, lived in camps run by the Army and worked hard for wages (most of which they had to send home to their families) to preserve America's natural treasures.
In The New Deal's Forest Army, Benjamin F. Alexander chronicles how the corps came about, the process applicants went through to get in, and what jobs they actually did. He also explains how the camps and the work sites were run, how enrollees spent their leisure time, and how World War II brought the CCC to its end. Connecting the story of the CCC with the Roosevelt administration's larger initiatives, Alexander describes how FDR's policies constituted a mixed blessing for African Americans who, even while singled out for harsh treatment, benefited enough from the New Deal to become an increasingly strong part of the electorate behind the Democratic Party.
The CCC was the only large-scale employment program whose existence FDR foreshadowed in speeches during the 1932 campaign – and the dearest to his heart throughout the decade that it lasted. Alexander reveals how the work itself left a lasting imprint on the country's terrain as the enrollees planted trees, fought forest fires, landscaped public parks, restored historic battlegrounds, and constructed dams and terraces to prevent floods. A uniquely detailed exploration of life in the CCC, The New Deal's Forest Army compellingly demonstrates how one New Deal program changed America and gave birth to both contemporary forestry and the modern environmental movement.
"This is an impressive history of the Civilian Conservation Corps. Alexander artfully balances granular detail with a sure sense of the larger narrative, surpassing the most authoritative account of the CCC we've had to date."
– Phillip G. Payne, St. Bonaventure University, author of Crash! How the Boom and Bust of the 1920s Worked
"This book delivers an extraordinary and valuable examination of one of the New Deal's most well-known relief and recovery programs, the Civilian Conservation Corps. Readers will appreciate the continued relevance that Benjamin Alexander's well-written history holds for understanding our present moment."
– Jason Scott Smith, University of New Mexico, author of Building New Deal Liberalism: The Political Economy of Public Works, 1933–1956
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Benjamin F. Alexander teaches American history at the New York City College of Technology. He is the author of Coxey's Army: Popular Protest in the Gilded Age.