University of Michigan seeks information identifying subjects in rare Great Depression photos

Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
Civilian Conservation Corps (U.S.), Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – After acquiring 30 rare photos from African-American Civilian Conservation Corp camps during the Great Depression, officials with the University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library asked the public to help identify those featured in the photographs.

The 30 photos obtained are inconsistently labeled, only some having dates. Some have nicknames written on them, and some have no classifications at all.  

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a part of the New Deal, being a public work relief program that operated from 1933 to 1942 in the United States for unemployed men with families in need. Despite its popularity, the CCC was a temporary agency that wasn't deemed necessary when World War II’s draft started.

“This history has been overlooked, and I immediately understood this collection was significant,” said Mike Smith, who acquired the photos for the collection. “These are the only known photos of all-African-American CCC camps in Michigan, but we need help filling out the details.”

During the Great Depression, African-American workers were some of the most adversely affected. Discriminatory hiring practices were commonplace, and even the CCC had a percentage cap on the number of African-Americans they allowed in the program.

Not much is known about the conditions of the Michigan camps or those who were involved. 
The Bentley has digitized the photos and made them available online, inviting anyone with information to email mosmith@umich.edu.

Established in 1935, the Bentley Historical Library is the campus archive for University of Michigan, documenting the history of the college, the state- and its people, programs and organizations. 

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