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Thanksgiving in Job Corps in Bismarck ‘66

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In 1966, a Job Corps center opened in Bismarck at Fort Lincoln after the army had declared the site as surplus. The first 22 men to arrive at the Lewis and Clark Job Corps Center, had a quiet entrance into North Dakota, with little fanfare. However, this was perhaps a welcome relief, as much controversy had developed over the opening of the site in the past year, placing Bismarck squarely in the national news as tensions rose.

It seemed that some residents opposed the establishment of this center because of rumors that the applicants were “hopeless, … below-average in native intelligence and with a criminal history.” Some other concerns were characterized as racist commentary. Letters to the editor poured into local papers as people blasted that sentiment, but some asserted that the sentiments were indeed a reflection attitudes in the state.

However, Boyd Clemens, district manager of the North Dakota State Employment Service set the public straight, noting that the men who applied had a desire to improve themselves, and had “healthy native intelligence that only” needed encouragement. Governor Guy also came out in support of the center, noting the benefits that would come out of it as he encouraged residents to be accepting.

Despite the heated debates, many residents did embrace the idea, and around 75 couples attended the orientation conferences at the center prior to the arrival of the young men.

And by Thanksgiving 1966, the public’s attitude had improved. Rather than contention and concern, citizens were inviting the new community members into their home for Thanksgiving. So many were invited, that the Lewis and Clark Job Corps Camp “had to turn down Thanksgiving dinner invitations for its enrollees – there weren’t enough corpsmen to go around.”

Not all of the corpsmen took residents up on the invitations, and those who decided to remain at the camp received a Thanksgiving meal and some special entertainment.

In the end, the Lewis and Clark Job Corps center was one of a number of camps suddenly shut down in early 1968, possibly due to federal funding cuts, and those stationed in Bismarck were relocated or returned home to apply their new skills.

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker

Sources:

Mandan Pioneer, December 2, 1965, p1

Bismarck Tribune, Tuesday, December 7, 1965, p18

Mandan Pioneer, December 1, 1965, p1

Mandan Pioneer, December 1, 1965, p1

Fargo Forum, Monday, December 6, 1965, p4

The Minot Daily News, Thursday, December 2, 1965, p1

Bismarck Tribune, Saturday, August 20, 1966, p1

Devils Lake Morning Journal, November 24, 1966, p1

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