As hurricane Isaac approaches the Gulf Coast it is Katrina that comes to mind first. Katrina will go down as one of the most shameful chapters in American history. Unfortunately Katrina is not the only chapter in that book.The Great Flood of 1927 wrote the book on government inaction.
In the summer of 1927 after months of torrential rain, levees along the Mississippi River started to give way. With the water rising and situation hopeless rather than move the mostly black, share cropper population to safety, they were rounded up at gun point. Held prisoner in work camps along the river, thousands were forced to work, sand bagging the wobbly dikes. They had no rights, no option to leave, no say in their fate. Plantation owners feared if they were allowed to go they would never return, plantations couldn’t survive without the cheap black work force.
A rescue was organized by the sympathetic son of a plantation owner, when it was clear the levees would burst. Hundreds of boats waited in the river, in the end, less than 100 white women and children were taken to safety.
Enter, then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. Wanting to run for president the next year and sensing a photo opportunity, he stepped in. Hoover commissioned a report on abuses to blacks on the levies. Not liking the findings he approached an influential black leader, striking a deal. If the report was sugar coated, Hoover promised in return to give land to all the share croppers with no interest loans and grants. All he asked for was their vote the following year.
The deal was struck. Hoover was elected. No one got land.
The flood of 1927 is responsible for the largest migration of people in American history. It gave birth to the Mississippi delta blues, perhaps you can now understand the name Muddy Waters.