“G” is for Georgia – Part 2, FFA Camps (11/10/2023)

Two weeks ago the Friday Footnote described the triumphs and trials of building a FFA Leadership Training Center in Florida. Today we look at similar efforts in Georgia where we find not one, but two FFA camps. These two camps are the Georgia XXX-XXXXX Center and the Camp John Hope XXX-XXXXX Center (The Xs stand for something to be revealed later).

To prepare you for what you are to read, we first have a little quiz for you.

  1. In which decade were both camps built?
  2. What federal agency was involved in building the camps?
  3. In addition to FFA, what other career and technical education student organization has their name on the two camps?
  4. Who was John Hope?
  5. Historically, what population attended Camp John Hope?
  6. What structure at Camp John Hope was destroyed by a fire in 1976?
  7. Which camp at first was inaccessible by automobile?
  8. Eleanor Roosevelt provided funds to build what at one of the camps?
  9. What “special population” worked for about 30 days at the Georgia Center?
  10. All of the ________ eaten during the 1947 summer camping season at the Georgia Center was produced on the property.

Now let’s see how well you did on the quiz and learn more about the two FFA centers in Georgia.

Camp John Hope FFA-FCCLA Center Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center
When most people think of Camp John Hope they associate it with the New Farmers of America (NFA). It is true that the camp was used by the NFA during the segregation days in the South. However, that is only part of the story of Camp John Hope.

Dr. John Hope was president of Atlanta University, a historically black university, during the 1930s. Being of partial African-American descent he had a sympathy for underprivileged youth and saw the need for a continuing education and a recreational place for young African-American men. Accordingly, he spent several years planning and securing funds to build a camp for this population. However, he died of pneumonia in 1936 before realizing his dream. But the effort to build the camp continued.

Construction on the camp, located in Macon County, started in 1937 and was opened for campers in 1938.

Figure 1. John Hope

The land (222 acres) for the camp was purchased by the Resettlement Administration, an agency within the USDA now known as the Farm Service Agency. This allowed federal funds to be used in building the camp. The Board of Regents of the University of Georgia also appropriated funds to build the camp.

After the camp was built, it was leased to the “General Committee on Recreation and Camping for Negro Youths in Georgia.” It appears this committee might have been associated with the National Youth Administration (NYA). The NYA was a New Deal agency created during the depression. It provided work and education for young people between the ages of 16 and 25. There was a Division of Negro Affairs headed by Mary McLeod Bethune. The NYA was active in Georgia.

Some of the groups who utilized Camp John Hope were Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Tri-Hi-Y, YMCA, YWCA, Negro agriculture and home economics teachers, Negro 4-H members, and of course the NFA.

In 1945, the USDA transferred the deed of the camp to the Georgia Department of Education. Once the Department of Education possessed the camp, they provided additional funds to support the camp.

After the Future Homemakers of America (FHA) became a reality in 1945, the New Homemakers of America (NHA) was established shortly thereafter for African-American students in segregated schools. The NHA started using the camp in addition to the NFA. After the merger of the NHA and FHA and the name change later (in 1999) to Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) that name was added to the Camp.

The camp has grown and improved over time. The dining hall burned down in 1976 and was replaced. Camp John Hope is available for youth, religious and civic organizations to use today. For more information go to http://www.campjohnhope.com/.

Refer to Figures 2 & 3 for news articles about Camp John Hope.

In 1937 a 150 acre tract of land overlooking Lake Jackson near Covington, Georgia was purchased for $1,000 to be a FFA camp. The site contained a mile and a half of lake shoreline.

When the property was purchased, it was not accessible by automobile, but the county commissioners agreed to grade a road to the site.

Officials with the National Youth Administration (NYA) were involved in the selection of the site and agreed to cooperate with the FFA in improving the property and erecting buildings. The NYA youth workers were transported to the site to do the work. After the first building was completed, the NYA workers lived there.

At the annual ag teachers conference in 1937 the teachers voted to donate $3 per FFA member over a period of years to develop the property. This effort raised $45,000.

In 1938 Eleanor Roosevelt visited the camp and donated funds to build a camp infirmary.

During 1941-42 convict labor was used to grade an improved road into the site and clear the area for a three acre swimming lake.

Initial construction of the camp was completed in 1943. The NYA youth made the oak tables used in the dining hall. The FFA bought an additional 212 acres adjoining the camp that year.

After World War II beef prices were high and in short supply, so camp land was used to produce grain and pasture cattle. During the 1947 camping season all the beef served to campers was produced and slaughtered on the farm.

Two years after the Future Homemakers of America was established, they were invited to a week of camping with the FFA. This experiment was successful and the FFA voted in 1953 to make this a permanent arrangement. In 1956 the FHA name was added to the camp.

In the 1970s the FFA and FHA members wanted a swimming pool instead of a swimming pond, so candy was sold to fund the construction of an Olympic size pool.

In 1994 an arboretum was constructed at the center.

The summer Olympics were held in Atlanta in 1996. A German delegation of 3,200 campers spent most of the summer at the camp. The revenues generated allowed the Center to purchase more land bringing the total to about 500 acres.

Numerous improvements have been made over time. In 2017-2018 MAJOR additions were made because of the need to expand the facility to accommodate larger groups. The Terry England Leadership Center was opened with a seating capacity of over 1200. In 2018 the John K. Wilkinson Hall was opened and became the primary dining hall. With seating for 550 and space for six lanes for serving, this new dining hall helped meet the needs of growing camp programs.

For more information go to http://georgiaffacamp.org/.

Refer to Figures 4 & 5 for news articles about the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center.

Figure 2. The Atlanta Journal, June 25, 1939.

Figure 3. The Macon News, July 25, 1961

Figure 4. The Macon Telegraph, July 30, 1953

Figure 5. The Macon Telegraph, July 21, 1951

Concluding Remarks

I have visited many of the FFA Camps/Centers in the country including the two in Georgia. They all have unique qualities and have left me with many memorable memories. For years a collegiate conference for university Ag Ed students in the Southern states was held at the Georgia FFA-FCCLA Center in the fall. I enjoyed browsing the historical displays below the dining hall, visiting the Dudley Hughes Memorial Chapel, playing hearts into the wee hours of the morning with other college professors, heated quiz bowl competitions, pickup football games and participating in volleyball competitions. One year our conference met at Camp John Hope. One of the NCSU students discovered fire ants on that trip. The recent additions to the facilities in the Georgia Center are mind boggling. If you get the opportunity, I encourage you to visit both of the Georgia camps.

Much of the material for the Footnote came from the website of both camps. However, there is much more information on their websites. One interesting side note was that a master’s thesis was written in 1949 about a group of Y.W.C.A. campers at Camp John Hope. The cabins the girls stayed in were located in “Snake Valley” because of the numerous snakes. That thesis can be accessed at https://radar.auctr.edu/islandora/object/cau.td%3A1949_peebles_alice_d/datastream/OBJ/download.

Next week we will conclude our series on “G” is for Georgia with a special Thanksgiving themed Friday Footnote.