The Great Mississippi Flood in 1927
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Date: 2, September 05, at 9:09 a.m.
In Response To: Hurricane Katrina Exposes Racism And Inequality (News)
March and April: LeRoy Percy and other plantation owners send their farm hands to raise the height of Washington County levees. Other African Americans in the area are pressed into work gangs to heighten and fortify the levees. Police round up African Americans in town at gun point and send them to the levee. Convicts are also pressed into action, and altogether a gang of 30,000 men work to save the levee.
The Great Mississippi Flood in 1927 was the most destructive flood in United States history.
In the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the Mississippi River broke out of its levee system in 145 places and flooded 27,000 square miles or about 16,570,627 acres (70,000 km²). 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, and Tennessee with Arkansas being hardest hit with 13% of its territory covered by floodwaters.
The flood began when heavy rains pounded 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 New Year's day of 1927 the Cumberland River at Nashville topped levees at 56.2 feet (17 m).
By May of 1927 the Mississippi River below Memphis, Tennessee was a watery oval up to 60 miles wide (100 km).
The flood propelled Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover into the national spotlight and set the stage for his election to the Presidency.
As the flood approached New Orleans, Louisiana 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 prevented New Orleans from experiencing serious damage but destroyed much of the marsh below the city. 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 dynamiting, made it impossible for flood waters to seriously threaten the city.
By August 1927 the flood subsided. During the disaster 700,000 people were displaced, including 330,000 African-Americans who were moved to 154 relief camps. Many African-Americans were detained and forced to labor at gunpoint during flood relief efforts. The aftermath of the flood was one factor in the Great Migration of African-Americans to northern cities.
In Rising Tide, John Barry chronicles the events that precipitated and resulted from the Mississippi flood of 1927, starting with the engineers and committees who battled greedily — and ultimately foolishly — to master North America's mightiest river. The flood represented the greatest natural disaster America had ever known; water claimed the lives of over 1,000 people and the homes of nearly one million, exposing racism, greed, power politics, and bureaucratic incompetence at every turn while simultaneously creating national heroes and lasting social change throughout the Deep South. Hundreds of thousands of African Americans were packed into squalid refugee camps and many more migrated north and west as the myths of friendly feudal plantation and sharecropping dissolved behind them. Southern plantation aristocracy was wiped out and a new elite was created. The Ku Klux Klan rose in power.
Barry's account of the 1927 flood provides a widely-acclaimed exploration of the reshaping of American culture, economy and politics. Powell's own Michael Powell calls Rising Tide his favorite among his Staff Picks. The book is also the winner of the Francis Parkman Prize, the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, the Lilian Smith Award, and has been named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. Malia, Powells.com
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