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Conservation Legacy

Celebrating Black History

February is Black History Month! To kick off this month, we’d like to talk about the contributions of Black members of the original Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and their efforts on public lands despite the oppression they faced due to the historical realities of segregation and racism in the government and the history of conservation corps in the U.S.


During the Great Recession, President Franklin D. Roosevelt initiated the CCC to help mitigate the problem of massive unemployment in the U.S. and to build the country’s natural resource infrastructure. About 10% of CCC crew members were black (around 200,000 men in the span of the CCC’s activity). Despite Oscar DePriest’s promise, the only black member of congress at the time, to forbid the CCC to discriminate based on “race, creed, or color” the CCC was still segregated based on the argument that “segregation is not discrimination.”

Since the CCC existed during the Jim Crow era, this promise was not fulfilled. Camps were often segregated by race to reduce community outcry, and many of the 150 camps of Black men were built on remote federal lands that were further from the public. However, their efforts were instrumental to the CCC's success especially for rural areas.

By confronting the history of racism and segregation in the CCC, we can challenge the misconception that the country’s public lands infrastructure was built by young white men and show that Black history is deeply intertwined with the history of conservation in the U.S. since the beginning. To move forward inclusively, we cannot ignore the prominence of Black history in the history of conservation. We must work to honor and provide space and elevate black voices and black joy in outdoor spaces. Join us as we celebrate Black history every day.