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



MIssissippi River Flood of 1927 showing flooded areas and relief operations

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).

On April 15, 1927 15” of rain fell in 18 hours. This rain caused flooding which overtook 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 50 miles wide and more than 100 miles 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). [2]

Arkansas River flooded Natural Steps, Arkansas in 1927

Attempts at relief

A river levee is blown up at Caernarvon in 1927

As the flood approached New Orleans, Louisiana, about 30 tons of dynamite were set off on the levee at Caernarvon, Louisiana and sent 7,000 m³/s (250,000 ft³/s) of water pouring through. This prevented 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 [3].


By August 1927, the flood subsided. During the disaster, 700,000 people were displaced, including 330,000 blacks who were moved to 154 relief camps. Over 13,000 evacuees near Greenville, Mississippi, were gathered from area farms and evacuated to the crest of the unbroken Greenville Levee, and stranded there for days without food or clean water, while boats arrived to evacuate white women and children. The Greenville Levee was 8 feet wide and approximately 5 miles long.

Political, sociological and cultural effects

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.[4]

The aftermath of the flood was one factor in the Great Migration of African-Americans to northern cities. Previously, the move from the rural South to the Northern cities had virtually stopped. In June 1927 the flood waters began to recede, however the interracial relations were too strained to withstand. Hostilities had ruptured between the races; a black man was shot by a white police officer simply because he didn’t want to work a double shift. As a result of displacement 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.

The flood propelled Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who was in charge of flood relief operations, into the national spotlight and set the stage for his election to the Presidency. It also helped Huey Long be elected Louisiana Governor in 1928.

The flood had the unlikely effect of contributing to both the election of Herbert Hoover as President, and his defeat four years later. He 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 re-election campaign.[citation needed]

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 the request of Herbert Hoover, with the promise of further reforms for blacks after the presidential election. When he failed to keep the promise, Moton and other influential African-Americans helped to shift the allegiance of Black Americans from the Republican party to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Democrats.[3]

The flood resulted in a great cultural output as well, inspiring a great deal of folklore and folk music. Charlie Patton, Bessie Smith, Barbecue Bob, and many other blues musicians wrote songs about the flood. Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie's "When the Levee Breaks" was reworked by Led Zeppelin, and became one of that group's most famous songs. William Faulkner's short story "Old Man" (in the book If I Forget Thee Jerusalem) was about a prison break from Parchman Penitentiary during the flood. Several decades after the flood, Randy Newman wrote "Louisiana 1927" about it. Zachary Richard wrote the song "Big River."

See also


  1. ^ Man v. Nature, National Geographic, May 2001 Accessed June 14, 2008
  2. ^ [1] Accessed July 11, 2009
  3. ^ a b Barry, John M.. Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America. ISBN 0-684-84002-2. 
  4. ^ After the Flood of 1927

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