An excellent summary of the history of the flood, the social changes,  etc., can be found in the Weather Channel’s series “When Weather Changed History,” The Great Flood of 1927 & The Treatment of Blacks.

  • The Mississippi River Flood of 1927The flood inundated 16 million acres of land across Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. Seventeen million acres—27,000 square miles, or an area that spanned 99 miles long and 50 miles wide—were underwater, some areas under 30 feet. In many areas of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, flood waters remained until July of that year. One million Americans were directly affected; hundreds of thousands were displaced.The flood exposed the conditions of poor African American sharecroppers and tenant farmers and their relationship with cotton plantation owners. An estimated 200,000 African Americans were displaced by the flood and lived for long periods of time in relief camps. There was racial disparity in how relief aid was distributed. Seventy-five percent of the population of the Delta was African American, and 95 percent of agricultural workers were African Americans. Planters feared that if laborers were evacuated from the region, they would not return, resulting in a labor shortage.

    Among the consequences of the flood:

    • Many African American men were impressed into service and were never paid. Many would subsequently leave, joining the Great Migration.
    • African Americans shifted from the Republican Party—the party of Lincoln—to the Democratic Party, a consequence of broken promises by Herbert Hoover. Racial abuses during the flood eventually cost Hoover the support of national black leader Robert Moton, who had been in charge of investigating racial abuses in relief camps.
    • Americans begin to reconsider the view on government responsibilities for providing relief. After 1927, the federal government agreed to provide relief following natural disasters.
    • The floods undermined the faith in and underscored the failure of the Army Corps of Engineers’ levees-only system—described by Gifford Pinchot, chief of the forest service under President Theodore Roosevelt as “the most colossal blunder in engineering history”—and resulted in a revised Flood Control program in 1928. In 1917, the Army Corps of Engineers commenced a “levees only” project to control the Mississippi River, the 10-year plan to build 40-foot-high, 100-foot wide levees running a length of 1,000 miles on both sides of the river. In August 1926, heavy rain began, lasting eight months. The river ran at record levels. On Jan. 7, 1927, a 49-foot flood crest passed Cairo, Ill.; levees were the only protection. Hundreds worked around the clock to reinforce the levees with sandbags. The Army Corps of Engineers assured that the levees would hold, but they did not. The first levees failed in Illinois, and approximately 120 failed before the flooding ended. On April 21, 1927, the main stem was 9.5 feet above flood stage. At Mound Landing, a section of the levee collapsed.
    • A significant change in flood management policy was made. The 1928 Flood Control Actled to additional measures to reduce stress on levees with floodways, reservoirs, and strengthened levees.
    • Blues musicians wrote more than 50 songs about the devastation caused by the levee breaks. Examples include Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” Lonnie Johnson’s “Backwater Blues,” and Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie’s ‘When the Levee Breaks.”