Reflecting Upon Our Collection Habits through the Cecil Flowers Collection

Written by Brad Miller, graduate assistant

The past couple of weeks I have been given the task of re-processing the Cecil Flowers Collection. Mr. Flowers served his country as an “enrollee” (self-appointed nickname of the workers) in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1940 and then as an enlisted member of the United States Army Air Force starting in 1942. It seems his service in the CCC however, left the most memorable mark on his life.

As part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation, the CCC was created in order to employ the men left idle by the Great Depression by providing a service of conservation to the vast landscape of the United States. The CCC’s particular task in Tennessee, including Mr. Flowers’ company, was the construction of roads, trails, and buildings for state and national parks. Odds are, if you have enjoyed a weekend at one of these parks, you have utilized the hand-laid rock steps along a trail or have eaten lunch under a shelter constructed by the CCC.

While the collection certainly provides some interesting documents pertaining to the functions of the CCC companies throughout Tennessee, more than half of the collection contains information on the National Association of Civilian Conservation Corps Alumni (NACCCA). Mr. Flowers’ role as the Vice President of the NACCCA left a permanent mark on the organization and within the state. He led the movement to erect monuments across Tennessee to commemorate the hard work and dedication of the men who served the CCC to conserve our precious natural landscape and provide ways for the public to enjoy such areas. Below is a picture of Mr. Flowers and his wife Dorothy next to one of the many monuments he helped erect across Tennessee.

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(Picture from Cecil Flowers Collection)

The collection’s content speaks volumes to the efforts of the NACCCA in educating the general public about the CCC’s contributions, and even acting as advocates for the government to restart the CCC. I urge you to come take a look for yourself and read some interesting comments from the NACCCA urging the revival of the CCC to instill a work ethic and re-evaluate the way in which we have been polluting our environment. In this respect, researchers gain an understanding of how the alumni remembered their work, and how that impacted their lives and influenced their proactive education of the public.

The emphasis of Mr. Flowers’ collection on the NACCCA and the legacy of the CCC have sparked a couple of key questions in my mind. Mainly, what types of things can be found in an archives and why is it so important to not let go of our past?

The answer in short for both of these questions: just about anything can be found in an archive and we secure these items of the past because they are our histories! In reality, there are guidelines to what records are kept in an archive, but it does not speak to the breadth of content that can be found behind the archival doors. The collection contains picture slides, speeches, yearbooks, and even a complete CCC reproduction uniform. The Flowers collection, like every collection, is a creation of an individual whether they are actively collecting or passively retaining their possessions. They are our personal histories; the stories that we leave behind that inevitably define who we are. 

It is hard not to reflect upon your own collection habits when working in an archive. What do the papers we keep around the house reveal about our lives? Do we throw too many papers away or are we the next unsuspecting star of a television hoarding show. If our possessions were a collection, how would researchers react? Believe it or not, the records we maintain today may provide insight into the life of a university student in the 21st century or the local repercussions of a national event in the United States, perhaps a government shutdown. Everyone has a contribution to the history that will be written in the future. It is just a matter of what we leave behind, and what is left behind about us, that will be rummaged through by the future generations in their archives.

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