Saturday was perfect weather for a road trip to the sweet potato capital of the world: Vardaman, Mississippi. The Vocational Building for Vardaman High School was constructed by the National Youth Administration in 1941. The design was common, with a single entrance to the “classroom” area, and a larger double door entry to the “shop.” This allowed equipment, machines, and completed projects to be moved in and out as needed.
The National Youth Administration was the work, education, and skills development program for youth between ages 16 and 25. It operated as part of the Work Progress Administration. Although initially, President Roosevelt did not plan to address youth, lobbying spearheaded by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt changed his mind. Mrs. Roosevelt said:
I live in real terror when I think we may be losing this generation. We have got to bring these young people into the active life of the community and make them feel that they are necessary.
In 1937, the NYA moved emphasis to skills development and also opened a program for African American youth. In 1939 with the approaching war and waning unemployment, the priorities again shifted to training in defense industry. Congress abolished the program in 1943.
A significant number of vocational buildings were constructed by the NYA in Mississippi, and several have been profiled on Preservation in Mississippi. A few have been re-purposed in rural areas where there is no longer a school. More have been demolished or sit empty and deteriorating. In communities where a school is still present, such as Vardaman, the buildings are often utilized for office space, storage space, or other functions.