Researchers working to preserve The Okefenokee Swamp

Published: Oct. 17, 2023 at 4:57 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 17, 2023 at 5:22 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - It’s a more than 335,000 acres of untouched land and home to some of Georgia’s most threatened and endangered species.

The Okefenokee Swamp stretches from the Florida-Georgia line to Waycross.

It’s one of the largest and most primitive swamps in the country.

Some experts say it would not be in the pristine condition it is today without a little-known group of Black conservationists.

They were part of the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 1433.

Now thanks to a Federal grant researchers are working to learn more and preserve their story.

“It’s so important especially to Georgia history. And we would hate to have these things go hidden. It’s not absent, it’s hidden.”

The Civilian Conservation Corps was a nationwide program formed to help lift the United States out of the Great Depression, also known as the “CCC.”

It was established by Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 for single young men.

With a goal of improving America’s public lands, forests, and parks.

“These programs were a big deal. There was only a 6% of Black representation of Africans in the program. Again, not a shocking figure. In my research so far I would see people who are based in the Northeast or the Midwest will be sent to Mississippi, Florida, Georgia and Alabama because they faced discrimination, and they couldn’t be integrated into these all-white camps in the Midwest and Northeast,” Jes Neal said.

Jes Neal is the project archivist for a new program shedding light on Company 1433.

The group of almost 200 all-Black environmentalists who helped establish the Okefenokee Refuge.

“They were able to be successful. We do have an Okefenokee Refuge now. So in part I think they were very successful.”

The project aims to collect, preserve and digitize records on Company 1433.

And the development of an 8th-grade curriculum for teachers in counties surrounding the swamp to share the research’s findings with their students.

“I just want to invite people into this project. This is not a project that we can do independently we will be leaning on the community in Georgia and elsewhere. Because the hope is that this can be replicated in other states. And the stories of other black camps, even if they were not all black, but how those integrated camps the experience of folks there as well.”

For more information on the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, click here.