Great Mississippi Flood of 1927

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Mississippi River Flood of 1927 showing flooded areas and relief operations

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States.1

Events

The flood began with extremely heavy rains in the central basin of the Mississippi in the summer of 1926. By September, the Mississippi's tributaries in Kansas and Iowa were swollen to capacity. On Christmas Day of 1926,2 the Cumberland River at Nashville exceeded 56.2 feet (17 m), a level that remains a record to this day, higher than the devastating 2010 floods.

Flooding overtopped the levees causing the Mounds Landing to break with more than double the water volume of Niagara Falls. The Mississippi River broke out of its levee system in 145 places and flooded 27,000 square miles (70,000 km2). This water flooded an area 80 km (50 mi) wide and more than 160 km (99 mi) long. The area was inundated up to a depth of 30 feet (10 m). The flood caused over $400 million in damages and killed 246 people in seven states.

The flood affected Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. Arkansas was hardest hit, with 14% of its territory covered by floodwaters. By May 1927, the Mississippi River below Memphis, Tennessee, reached a width of 60 miles (97 km).3

Arkansas River flooded Natural Steps, Arkansas in 1927

Attempts at relief

On April 15, 1927, 15 inches (380 mm) of rain fell in New Orleans in 18 hours.4 More than 4 feet (1.2 m) of water covered parts of the city, and influential bankers in town met about how to guarantee the safety of the city, with the scale of flooding upriver already known. A few weeks later, about 30 tons of dynamite were set off on the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana and sent 250,000 ft³/s (7,000 m³/s) of water pouring through. This was intended to prevent New Orleans from experiencing serious damage, but flooded much of St. Bernard Parish and all of Plaquemines Parish's east bank. As it turned out, the destruction of the Caernarvon levee was unnecessary; several major levee breaks well upstream of New Orleans, including one the day after the demolitions, made it impossible for flood waters to seriously threaten the city.

A river levee is blown up at Caernarvon in 1927

Political and social responses

Following the Great Flood of 1927, the Army Corps of Engineers was again charged with taming the Mississippi River. Under the Flood Control Act of 1928, the world's longest system of levees was built. Floodways that diverted excessive flow from the Mississippi River were constructed.5

The aftermath of the flood was one factor in accelerating the Great Migration of African-Americans to northern cities. The flood waters began to recede in June 1927, but interracial relations continued to be strained. Hostilities had erupted between the races; a black man was shot by a white police officer when he refused to be conscripted to unload a relief boat.67 As a result of displacements lasting up to six months, tens of thousands of local African-Americans moved to the big cities of the North, particularly Chicago; many thousands more followed in the following decades.8

The flood further enhanced the reputation of Herbert Hoover, who was in charge of flood relief operations as Secretary of Commerce under President Calvin Coolidge. Hoover would later easily win the Republican nomination for President, and the general election, in 1928. In upstate Louisiana anger directed at the New Orleans elite aided Huey Long's election to the governorship in 1928.9:408–409, 477, 487 Hoover was much lauded for his masterful handling of the refugee camps, but later concerns over the treatment of blacks in those camps caused him to make promises to the African-American community which he later broke, losing the black vote in his reelection campaign.9:259–290 Several reports on the terrible situation in the refugee camps, including one by the Colored Advisory Commission by Robert Russa Moton, were kept out of the media at Hoover's request, with the pledge of further reforms for blacks after the presidential election. When he failed to deliver, Moton and other influential African-Americans helped to shift the allegiance of black Americans from the Republican party to the Democrats.9:415

See also

References

  1. ^ "Man vs. Nature: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927". News.nationalgeographic.com. 2001-05-01. Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  2. ^ Evans, David (2007). "Bessie Smith's 'Back-Water Blues': The story behind the song". Popular Music 26: 97. doi:10.1017/S0261143007001158. 
  3. ^ [1]dead link
  4. ^ "American Experience | New Orleans | People & Events". PBS. 1927-04-15. Retrieved 2014-03-22. 
  5. ^ "After the Flood of 1927". Houghton Mifflin. Retrieved 2010-07-15. 
  6. ^ "One Man's Experience". PBS. Retrieved 2010-07-15. "The police were sent into the Negro section to comb from the idlers the required number of workers. Within two hours, the worst had happened: a Negro refused to come with the officer, and the officer killed him." 
  7. ^ William Alexander Percy (1941, Reprint 2006). Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter's Son. Reprint. Louisiana State University Press. pp. 257–258, 266. ISBN 978-0-8071-0072-1. 
  8. ^ "Voices from the Flood". PBS. Retrieved 2010-07-15. "After the flood, the Delta would never be the same. With their meager crops destroyed, and feeling deeply mistrustful of white Delta landlords after their poor treatment as refugees, thousands of African Americans left the area. Many headed north to seek their fortunes in Chicago." 
  9. ^ a b c Barry, John M. (1998-04-02). Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. ISBN 0-684-84002-2. 

Further reading

  • Barry, John M. (1997). Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-84002-2. 
  • Daniel, Pete (1977). Deep'n As It Come: The 1927 Mississippi River Flood. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-502122-3. 
  • Payne, John Barton (1929). The Mississippi Valley Flood Disaster of 1927. Official Report of the Relief Operations. Washington, DC: American National Red Cross. OCLC 1610750. 
  • Risk Management Solutions. The 1927 Great Mississippi Flood: 80-Year Retrospective: RMS Special Report (2007)online
  • Sevier, Richard P. (2003). Madison Parish (Images of America). Charleston, SC: Arcadia. ISBN 0-7385-1510-8.  Contains over 200 pictures of the flood as it affected the Tensas Basin in eastern Louisiana. Website with selected photographs from the book.
  • Eldredge, Charles C. (2007). John Steuart Curry's Hoover and the Flood: Painting Modern History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-3087-1. 

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