working list – by no means complete.

1927 Flood & Mississippi River
  • A summary of the flood of 1927, the impact on Southern African Americans, the social and political changes, the levee system, etc., can be found in the Weather Channel’s series “When Weather Changed History,” The Great Flood of 1927 & The Treatment of Blacks.”

  • John M. Barry, Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America  (Simon & Schuster, 1998),
  • Richard M. Mizelle, Backwater Blues: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 and the African American Imagination, (University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

From the publisher:
The Mississippi River flood of 1927 was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history, reshaping the social and cultural landscape as well as the physical environment. Often remembered as an event that altered flood control policy and elevated the stature of powerful politicians, Richard M. Mizelle Jr. examines the place of the flood within African American cultural memory and the profound ways it influenced migration patterns in the United States.

In Backwater Blues, Mizelle analyzes the disaster through the lenses of race and charity, blues music, and mobility and labor. The book’s title comes from Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” perhaps the best-known song about the flood. Mizelle notes that the devastation produced the richest groundswell of blues recordings following any environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, with more than fifty songs evoking the disruptive force of the flood and the precariousness of the levees originally constructed to protect citizens. Backwater Blues reveals larger relationships between social and environmental history. According to Mizelle, musicians, Harlem Renaissance artists, fraternal organizations, and Creole migrants all shared a sense of vulnerability in the face of both the Mississippi River and a white supremacist society. As a result, the Mississippi flood of 1927 was not just an environmental crisis but a racial event.

Challenging long-standing ideas of African American environmental complacency, Mizelle offers insights into the broader dynamics of human interactions with nature as well as ways in which nature is mediated through the social and political dynamics of race. Includes discography.

Backwater Blues was reviewed in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, Sept 2015, Vol 5, issue 3, 491–92.

  • PBS documentary: Fatal Flood the spring of 1927, after weeks of incessant rains, the Mississippi River went on a rampage from Cairo, Illinois to New Orleans, inundating hundreds of towns, killing as many as a thousand people and leaving a million homeless. In Greenville, Mississippi, efforts to contain the river pitted the majority black population against an aristocratic plantation family, the Percys, and the Percys against themselves. A dramatic story of greed, power and race during one of America’s greatest natural disasters.
  • Susan Scott Parrish, The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History , (Princeton Univ Press, 2016)
    Parrish is Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature and the Program in the Environment at the University of Michigan. She is the author of American Curiosity: Cultures of Natural History in the Colonial British Atlantic World.


The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which covered nearly thirty thousand square miles across seven states, was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history. Due to the speed of new media and the slow progress of the flood, this was the first environmental disaster to be experienced on a mass scale. As it moved from north to south down an environmentally and technologically altered valley, inundating plantations and displacing nearly a million people, the flood provoked an intense and lasting cultural response. The Flood Year 1927 draws from newspapers, radio broadcasts, political cartoons, vaudeville, blues songs, poetry, and fiction to show how this event took on public meanings.

Americans at first seemed united in what Herbert Hoover called a “great relief machine,” but deep rifts soon arose. Southerners, pointing to faulty federal levee design, decried the attack of Yankee water. The condition of African American evacuees in “concentration camps” prompted pundits like W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells to warn of the return of slavery to Dixie. And environmentalists like Gifford Pinchot called the flood “the most colossal blunder in civilized history.” Susan Scott Parrish examines how these and other key figures–from entertainers Will Rogers, Miller & Lyles, and Bessie Smith to authors Sterling Brown, William Faulkner, and Richard Wright–shaped public awareness and collective memory of the event.

The crises of this period that usually dominate historical accounts are war and financial collapse, butThe Flood Year 1927 enables us to assess how mediated environmental disasters became central to modern consciousness.

+ T.S. McMillin, The Meaning of Rivers: Flow and Reflection in American Literature (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press) 2011

Poetry and literature


  • Susan Scott Parrish, “Faulkner and the outer weather of 1927,” American Literary History Volume 24, Issue 1, p. 34-58
  • Jay Watson, Reading for the Body: The Recalcitrant Materiality of Southern Fiction, 1893-1985, The New Southern Studies, (University of Georgia Press, 2012)
  • Poet Evie Shockley (at Rutgers) has written about and is a collaborated with Saar on the EPI produced artist’s bookShockley, on teaching Sterling Brown’s poem, “Ma Rainey,” students listen to a Bessie Smith recording of “Backwater Blues,” Boston Review, January 14, 2016;
  • Camille T. Dungy, editor, Black Nature, Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009) The natural world seen through the eyes of black poets.“Just as nature is too often defined as wilderness when, in fact, nature is everywhere we are, our nature poetry is too often defined by Anglo-American perspectives, even though poets of all backgrounds write about the living world…Dungy enlarges our understanding of the nexus between nature and culture, and introduces a ‘new way of thinking about nature writing and writing by black Americans.’” —Booklist (starred review)
  • Richard Wright, “The Man Who Saw the Flood,” New Masses 24, 1937 (short story); and “Down by the Riverside,” in a collection of short stories, Uncle Tom’s Children
  • Natasha Trethewey, Beyond Katrina, A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, (Athens, Ga., University of Georgia Press, 2010)
  • S. McMillin, The Meaning of Rivers: Flow and Reflection in American Literature American Land and Life Series, (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2011) McMillin is in the department of English at Oberlin
  • Sterling Brown, “Children of the Mississippi,” 1931, from Southern Road, 1932, poem
  • Bill Cheng, Southern Cross the Dog (Ecco, 2014), novel
  • Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World (Morrow: 2013), novel
  • Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, “What His Hands Were Waiting For,” short story, ca. 2010.
  • William Alexander Percy, Lanterns on the Levee: Recollections of a Planter’s Son, with 1973 introduction by Walker Percy, (originally published Knopf: 1941) later editions have a 1973 introduction by Walker Percy, memoir
  • William Faulkner, The Old Man, 1939, novella
  • Robert Penn Warren, Flood: A Novel, 1963
  • Michael Farris Smith, Rivers: A Novel, Simon & Schuster: 2013
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes are Watching God, 1937, novel
  • Ross Gay and Richard Wehrenberg, Jr., River, Monster House Press, 2014, chatbook
  • Jesmyn Ward, Salvage the Bones; Sing, Unburied, Sing”

    Graphic Novels

  • J.G. Jones and Mark Waid, Strange Fruit, in four volumes, 2015 & 21016From publisher:Two of the industry’s most respected and prolific creators come together for the first time in a deeply personal passion project. J.G. Jones (52, Wanted, Y: The Last Man) and Mark Waid (Irredeemable, Superman: Birthright, Kingdom Come) take on a powerful, beautifully painted story set during the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. Strange Fruit is a challenging, provocative examination of the heroic myth confronting the themes of racism, cultural legacy, and human nature through a literary lens, John Steinbeck’s classic novel, Of Mice and Men.It’s 1927 in the town of Chatterlee, Mississippi, drowned by heavy rains. The Mississippi River is rising, threatening to break open not only the levees, but also the racial and social divisions of this former plantation town. A fiery messenger from the skies heralds the appearance of a being, one that will rip open the tensions in Chatterlee. Savior, or threat? It depends on where you stand. All the while, the waters are still rapidly rising.
  • Mat Johnson (author) and Simone Gane, Illustrator, Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story, (Vertigo: 2010)In the days after Hurricane Katrina, two men who fell through society’s cracks travel to evacuate New Orleans to pull off the bank heist of a lifetime. Up against the clock and eluding armed competitors, the men find themselves in the middle of one of the greatest humanitarian disasters in American history. All around them, the institutions that form the pillars of our society are falling apart. Surrounded by death and misery, the men face a moral challenge greater than any other obstacle they’ve had to overcome. Is it possible to beat the system, even when it lies in ruins? Can they save even one person–or themselves? Or will those institutions come crashing down right on top of them?
  • Josh Neufeld, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, written and illustrated by Neufeld (Pantheon: 2009)
    Neufeld known for his graphic narratives of political and social upheaval, told through the voices of witnesses. He is the writer/artist of the bestselling nonfiction graphic novel A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge (Pantheon).

African American history/material culture

  • Henry John Drewal, Mami Wata: Arts for Water Sprits in Africa and its Africa Diasporas. (University of Washington Press: 2008)
  • Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (Random House, 2010)


  • Blues musicians responded to the flood of 1927 with at least two dozen songs including Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues” (1927), Charley Patton‘s “High Water Everywhere, Part 1” (1929), Lonnie Johnson’s “Broken Levee Blues” and 1929’s “When the Levee Breaks,” by Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe McCoy. (A song also covered by Led Zeppelin in 1971 and Dylan.)
  • David Evans, on the origin of Bessie Smith’s song, “Backwater Blues,”
  • David Evans,High Water Everywhere. Blues and Gospel Commentary on the 1927 Mississippi River Flood,” Nobody Knows Where the Blues Come From. Lyrics and History. Edited by Robert Springer, (Jackson, Miss.: University Press of Mississippi, 2006)
  • DoVeanna S. Fulton Minor, “Come Through the Water, Come Through the Flood” Black Women’s Gospel Practices and Social Critique,”
    • Abstract
      This article explores gospel music created by Black women as a form of protest that critiques social injustice. Using the tragic circumstances the 1927 Mississippi River Flood, the author argues that in the first half of the twentieth century the emergent gospel music became a vehicle through which African American women could circumvent the restrictive gender dictates of Black churches. In music created immediately following the flood and years later, Black women challenged the rhetoric and practice of hegemony through an alternative oral discourse that recognized the whole self as integral to spiritual and subjective fulfillment, and simultaneously critically assessed their cultural milieu.
  • Tim A. Ryan, Yoknapatawpha Blues: Faulkner’s Fiction and Southern Roots Music, LSU Press, 2015
  • “Flood Songs, Dylan and The Mississippi Blues,”
  • American Routes, Nick Spitzer host, Wade in the Water: Songs and Stories of the River:
  • American Routes, After the Storm, takes you in story and song to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Nick blends music and commentary that describes the place of storms and floods in the history and culture of the city and region. Featured are classic blues about broken levees and broken hearts, celebratory jazz funerals and memories of the city in song. Artists include Louis Armstrong, Mahalia Jackson, Fats Domino and Randy Newman, others.
  • Article from the Wall Street JournalWhen Bad Times Make Good Art” which is a more general description of the Delta Blues and the 1927 flood
  • NPR story: Singing the Blues about 1927’s Delta Floods
  • NPR story: When The Levee Breaks: Ripples Of The Great Flood


  • The Great Flood by Bill Morrison and Bill Frisell about the 1927 flood, the documentary consists of archival film footage and photographs, is presented without narration with captions inserted occasionallyTrailer
  • Spike Lee: When the Levees Broke
  • Spike Lee: If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise, 2010
  • The Johnston Flood, 1989, Academy Award for best documentary short subject
  • Helen HIll’s Home Movies (2000-05) These are home movies Helen Hill made of her neighborhood in New Orleans a year before Hurricane Katrina hit. Preservation of these personal films is a memorial to a unique city and to Hill’s work and life. An award-winning filmmaker, animator and teacher, Hill consistently documented her life and the lives of the people around her with a series of Super 8 home movies. Between her return to New Orleans in 2001 and her first visit back to her devastated neighborhood in October 2005, she shot forty-two 50 foot Super 8 reels, totaling approximately 80 minutes of running time. Film labs refused to handle Hill’s flood damaged home movies so she hand-cleaned the films with soap and water, halting their decay. Hill’s Super 8 images are poignant evidence of unseen neighborhoods and local culture lost in the hurricane.Hill was an independent filmmaker, teacher, and animator. She is well known for her extraordinary use of drawings, paintings, photographs, cut-out paper and three dimensional cloth puppets. Her techniques expanded to include hand-processed film, found film footage, her own home movies and camera-less animation as well as traditional animation.from
  • Peter Hutton. Study of a River, 1997 , experimental film, winter on Hudson River
  • Pare Lorentz, The River, 1938, short documentary, about importance of Mississippi River
  • Caroline Bacle, Lost Rivers, 2012
  • 1927 film footage from the Signal Corp, can be accessed at
    Short silent film produced by the Signal Corps of the Mississippi flood of 1927; from: Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Chief Signal Officer, 1927
    Reel 1, flood waters rage through Illinois, carrying houses and debris. Kleinwood, La., is under water. Marooned families, their salvaged possessions, and livestock cling to levees. Sec. of Commerce Hoover meets Red Cross heads. Army troops load equipment on freight cars. Levees are reinforced at Baton Rouge. Coast Guard cutters and miscellaneous craft evacuate people and animals in La. Reel 2, Hoover and Sec. of War Davis inspect flooded areas at Vicksburg and along the River to Natchez. Refugees are inoculated, fed, and given shelter at an Army camp in Louisiana.The material comes from a 3/4″ U-matic video viewing copy made available at the National Archives facility in College Park, MD. The condition of the source material is relatively good for its age. Unfortunately, the transfer to video was badly done with lots of flicker and crooked perspective. Additionally, there are many video artifacts as a result of the age and wear of the video tape. High quality preservation 35mm film exists.


Wild River, 1960, director Elia Kazan, Tennessee Valley
Beasts of the Southern Wild, 2012, director Ben Zeitlin


Harold Fisk, The Alluvial Valley of the Lower Mississippi River 1944, 15 Plates, the maps visually track the meanderings of the Mississippi from “ancient courses” through 1765, 1820, 1880, and 1944. Maps produced and published by the U.S. Army Corp pf Engineers Mississippi River Commission. HIgh resolution files can be accessed at additional information at: