Mississippi River flood ravages the delta – unknown number killed

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Mississippi River flooding

The levee break at Mound Landing, near Greenville, April, 1927. (Courtesy: National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration)

Greenville, Mississippi, April 22, 1927: Our worst fears of a Mississippi River flood became a raging torrent of reality at 8:00, yesterday morning, in the Delta. The levee broke 12 miles up the Mississippi River from Greenville at Mounds Landing with a water force that engineers say was greater than the power of Niagara Falls, creating a gap in the levee nearly one mile wide.

An unknown number of black laborers, who had been working day and night in torrential rain for three days, building a wall of sand bags on that levee, were swept away by mud, water and fury.  The buildings and many of the people in Mounds Landing below the levee were, likewise, washed away like tiny toys.  Mounds Landing is no more.  It’s beneath an inland sea 30 feet deep.

It will take weeks or even months to know how many have died.  And, still, the rains continue, as destruction gushes through the Delta with unrelenting ferocity—one mile in, two miles in, five miles in.  When will the gushing stop?  For the moment, answers are giving way to survival.  The “Whys?” will come later.

With every passing minute, more and more people are stranded on rooftops, and clinging to trees, hoping to be rescued, as the waters rage on.  Late last night, the churning waters outside the levees were headed directly toward Greenville. All who could evacuated the town.

Train Wreck

The train carrying U.S. Vice-President Charles G. Dawes and Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover wrecked near Heads, Miss., on the Yazoo & Mississippi Valley railroad. The engine went into 40 feet of water, killing the engineer, during the flooding in the Mississippi Delta on July 29, 1927. (The Commercial Appeal files / Harmon Barlow Collection)

The Army Corps of Engineers has been promising since last fall, when all these heavy rains began, that the levees are engineered to holdback the Mississippi—no matter what.  Empty promises.

Last Saturday, a 1200 foot length of a government levee gave way along the Mississippi about 30 miles south of Cairo, Illinois.  An estimated 170,000 acres were quickly flooded.  Since then, all of us down river have been wondering, “What levee is next?”  We got our answer yesterday morning.

And, to make matters even worse, common sense tells us that if a levee breaks on one side of the river, the other side will be spared because the water will be diverted through the busted levee.

So, in this stressful circumstance, animal instincts are prevalent.  Each side of the river from Cairo to New Orleans fears levee sabotage. Armed patrols of citizens have been set up to guard each side to prevent intruders from dynamiting their side of the levee. The patrols say they are prepared to shoot to kill any and all levee saboteurs.

The potential magnitude of this flood disaster in terms of both natural calamity and man made viciousness at this point is incalculable.

This is a silent film produced by the Signal Corps of the Mississippi flood of 1927 from Prelinger Archives collection, Archive.Org


Mississippi River Flood of 1927

Mississippi River Flood of 1927 showing flooded areas and relief operations

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 killed 246 people and did $5 billion in damage in today’s dollars. There were places in the Mississippi Delta where the Mississippi River was 65 miles wide at the height of the flooding.

History proves over and over that events have consequences.  The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 affected American history like few natural events before or since.  Here are four major historical consequences of that great flood 82 years ago:

1. The flood propelled the Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who was in charge of the flood relief operations, into the national spotlight.  He became President of the United States in 1928.  Hoover was lauded from coast to coast for his masterful handling of the 154 refugee camps for some 700,000 people the flood displaced.

2. However, studies were done during the relief operations that found enormous mistreatment of the 330,000 black Americans who were displaced by the flood.  Boats would arrive in stricken areas and evacuate whites and leave blacks to fend for themselves.  Many blacks were detained and forced to work in the relief effort at gunpoint.  The black population was simply not recognized as requiring relief aid.  Herbert Hoover insisted these horribly negative reports be kept out of the media, promising that if he was elected President, he would institute reforms to help the blacks in this country.  Hoover was elected, but he failed to keep his promise, so the blacks shifted their allegiance from Hoover and the Republican Party to the Democratic Party, where most reside today, which insured the election of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1932.

3. As a result of the black treatment in the flood displacement, tens of thousands of blacks moved to the big cities of the North, particularly Chicago, and many thousands more followed in the next few decades.  It was the greatest internal shift of population in US history.

4. And because of the mass emigration by blacks from South to North,  the flood resulted in a great cultural output in the arts as well, inspiring novels, folk music, and the idea of blues music being a separate musical genre– unique to blacks.  All of this arose during this emigration, both in the Delta and in Chicago.

These four consequences help to ensure that The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 will be remembered and studied for years to come as a major event in Southern Memories.

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