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the Rails

It's 1933, and the Great Depression has caused suffering for millions of Americans. On the eve of your 18th birthday, you are preparing to leave home and live the life of a migrant worker. You make plans follow your big brother and travel around the country on freight trains. It sounds dangerous and exciting.


The night before you leave, a man visits your home and offers you another choice. What will you do?

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Library of Congress


     In the early 1930s, hundreds of thousands of teens were riding the rails. They faced many dangers, including cold nights, rough police, and hunger. Death and injury were always one slip away. In spite of these risks, teens and adults continued to use freight trains as a source of free transportation as they traveled across the US to find work.

     Black teens faced additional dangers due to the racist attitudes of Whites. Lynchings and mob violence were used to terrorize Black travelers, and to prevent them from working in certain towns. 

     The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) got its start in the Shenandoah Mountain-town of Luray, Virginia. Each worker was paid $30 a month, and $25 was automatically sent to their family. The young workers also received free food and housing. 

     The CCC offered a safer alternative to riding the rails, and the income was guaranteed. Projects included planting trees and building roads and trails that are still in use today. Many US National Parks owe their preservation to CCC projects.


     Blacks and Whites worked alongside one another in integrated camps, but thousands of Native Americans were assigned to segregated, Native-only camps. In addition to working, there were opportunities to finish high school, perform concerts, and participate in sports. 

Sources (play at 11:48)


Great Depression, CCC, Trains, Hobos, Migrant Workers, National Parks, New Deal

After the dilemma:

What really happened

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integrated CCC.png
Wikimedia Commons
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