Michigan-based author/songwriter Bill Jamerson will present a tribute to the Civilian Conservation Corps, a program filled with music and storytelling, at 6 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at Harrisburg District Library.
His hour-long program includes reading stories, excerpts from his novel, presenting a video clip from his PBS film and performing original songs with his guitar. Refreshments will be served.
Jamerson has presented his program at CCC reunions and state and national parks around the country. His presentation is about people both ordinary and extraordinary with stories of wit, charm and strength.
The CCC was a federal works program created by President Franklin Roosevelt in the heart of The Great Depression. During its nine-year run from 1933-1942, over 3 million young men between the ages of 17 and 25 enlisted across the country. They were known as "Roosevelt's Tree Army" because they planted over 3.5 billion trees nationwide. The enrollees lived in work camps run by the Army and were paid $1 a day. Every month, $25 was sent home directly to their families.
In Illinois, the CCC planted trees, worked on soil erosion control, restored river banks, cleaned out ditches, constructed roads and bridges and brought electricity to rural areas. The CCC also built state parks, including Giant City, Fox Ridge, Kickapoo, White Pine, Mississippi Palisades, Illini and Matthiessen. The CCC also built the lodge at Starved Rock State Park and did restoration work at Black Hawk State Historic Site and Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site.
In December 1933, Camp Winnetka opened near Equality. Another camp opened outside of Eldorado. The men worked on farms in Saline County and came into Harrisburg on weekends to attend church, help out in emergencies and patronize stores, bowling alleys and movie theaters. They spent an average of $5,000 a month in town -- an important economic stimulus during The Great Depression.
Chicago received a large share of new recreational construction with the development of the Skokie Lagoons, part of the Cook County Forest Preserve. More than 165,000 men from Illinois enlisted in the CCC, with 92,000 men serving in the state. An average of 54 camps a year operated in Illinois with expenditures of more than $104 million during its nine-year run. In 1936, a Chicago judge credited the CCC with reducing juvenile crime rate by 50 percent between 1933 and 1935.
Jamerson's novel, "Big Shoulders," follows a year in the life of a 17-year-old Detroit youth who enlists in the CCC in 1937. The enrollee joins 200 other young men at a work camp in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. It is a coming-of-age story about an angry teenager facing the rigors of hard work, learning to get along with a difficult sergeant and coping with a bully.
Some of the songs performed in the program include "Chowtime," a fun look at camp food; "City Slicker," which tells of mischief young men get into in the woods; "Wood Tick," a song about nicknames the locals gave the enrollees; and "Tree Plantin' Fire Fightin' Blues," which tells of the hardships of work. The folk songs range from heartwarming ballads to foot-stomping jigs.
The CCC not only revitalized the state's natural resources, but also taught young men job skills and discipline. In his talk, Jamerson will share many nostalgic stories he has picked up from former CCC Boys and also discuss their projects in Illinois. He also will be available to sign books after the program. Those attending are encouraged to bring photo albums and CCC memorabilia.
For more information, call the library at (618) 253-7455 or visit Jamerson's website at www.billjamerson.com.