Escanaba, Mich.-based singer, songwriter, author, historian and documentarian, Bill Jamerson, will share songs and stories "of strength, wit and charm," about the Civilian Conservation Corps, otherwise known as the CCC Boys, presented through his tribute: "Dollar a Day Boys!" at The Gathering Place, 715 Campus St., Thursday (Sept. 28) at 1:30 p.m. The program is free and open to the public, a Gathering Place spokesperson said.
The program is one of several within Jamerson’s "History through Song" series. He has been giving such presentations, traveling across a 12-state region throughout the upper Midwest for over a decade, information on his website states. Other programs within the series include "Up in the U.P.!" featuring storytelling about Finish-American miners settling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and "It’s Daylight in the Swamps," featuring stories about Midwestern lumberjack camps.
About the CCC
Created by President Franklin Roosevelt as a federal works program during the Depression, 2.6 million men who might otherwise have had no means of support, 104,000 of whom were from Wisconsin, enrolled in the program, which operated for nine years, beginning in 1933, press release information shared by Jamerson stated.
During those years, the release continued, in Wisconsin, men planted 265 million trees, including the reforesting of Nicolet and Chequamegon national forests, fought forest fires, built dams and released fish into lakes and rivers. They constructed 483 bridges and 4,300 miles of truck trails, as well as erected some 4,000 miles of telephone poles. CCC projects also included Wisconsin state parks, among them: Rib Mountain, Devils Lake, Pattison, Peninsula, Copper Falls and Wyalusing.
CCC boys, many of whom were in their late teens and early 20s, lived in camps and worked alongside area farmers, terracing hills, installing fences, repairing gullies and applying fertilizers. In the process, boys became men, the release stated, as they learned discipline and work skills. The men toiled for one dollar a day with an additional $25 sent home to their families each month. "The money was a lifesaver for many families who were destitute," Jamerson wrote in his release.
Intrigued early in life by stories told by his grandfather about lumberjack camps and life during the Great Depression, Jamerson embraced history, studying it at the University of Michigan. In an email, Jamerson wrote that while he didn’t have family members in the CCC, "in 1992, a museum director contacted me about a donation, an 8 mm film of CCC planting trees. That led me to attend a CCC reunion and meet several dozen of the men. They inspired me to make a documentary for PBS." Produced that same year, Jamerson’s first major documentary, "Camp Forgotten – The Civilian Conservation Corps in Michigan," ultimately aired on 58 PBS stations nationwide, the website states. Ten more films about Michigan history followed, and in 2002, Jamerson began making live presentations about the CCC, as well as lumberjack and iron mining history. In 2007, the website states, Jamerson published a historical novel, "Big Shoulders," about a teenager coming of age while enrolled in the CCC.
Enjoying professionally a 15-year career in advertising, Jamerson’s website states, he transitioned into film, he wrote in his email when: "I asked a client to allow me to make a documentary for their company instead of a series of commercials. The program was shown on local public television and was my first of a dozen films on historical subjects."
His CCC program is an hour long and consists of various songs, excerpts and stories, and often includes audience participation, he wrote, adding that he has played the guitar for fun throughout most of his adult life. His presentations "are described as a cross between Woody Guthrie and Garrison Keillor," the website states.
Bring your stories and mementos
"It’s always a surprise with what people come up with. Many people who had dads (in the corps) come to my programs with interesting stories on how their dad learned a skill, met their wife or put on 35 pounds in the corps. I encourage people to bring scrapbooks, letters, articles of clothing or whatever they have, so we can display it for others," Jamerson wrote.
Through his programming, Jamerson wrote, he hopes to bring to those in the audience a better understanding about the contribution and hopefulness the CCC initiative brought: "Many of these young men were at the end of their rope and had no hope for a job or survival. They were living on the streets or riding the rails. The program was also an important relief program for their families back home, since most of the money they earned was sent home," he wrote.