New Orleans 1927 Flood — Levee Dynamited To Save City

African-American Community Sacrificed – Homeless Blacks Evacuate To Make It Elsewhere

The floods of the Mississippi River tell an important story from the depths of the past. Back in the day of states rights, before the federal government’s take-over of levees and dams to control the Mississippi River, its rich and extensive valley region regularly flooded from north to south, destroying crops, homes and cities nestled along the river banks.  When the big one finally came, it delivered tragedy and changed America.

It was in 1927 when the catastrophic flood made Mississippi River history.  The Great Flood of 1927 sent swift flood waters to destroy 130,000 homes.  Property damage was estimated to be equivalent of five billion dollars today.  As the flood waters threatened New Orleans, most of the city was saved except the black neighborhoods on the southeastern side of the city.  The flood waters were intentionally diverted by dynamiting a levee, which sent rushing waters onto rural crop lands and into the African-American community on the southeast side of the city.  An undisclosed number of blacks were killed.  Others were left devastated and homeless to fend for themselves.  Most evacuated from New Orleans for another life elsewhere in the country.  Apparently, nothing was done to help them in the aftermath of disaster.

Lower Ninth Ward August 2005

Given the current recognition of the fifth anniversary of Katrina, and the huge failure of the state and federal governments to save lives and help reconstruct the flooded Lower Ninth Ward following that disaster, the historic similarities are inescapable.

And I learned something else about the result of that Mississppi River disaster of 1927:  It helped move the country toward socialism. This surprised me since lately some folks have been trying to give President Obama all the credit for starting that movement in America.  Not so.  The honor goes to a Republican innovator in a startling move toward socialistic economic policy and values.  Following the 1927 flood, the federal government literally took over the Mississippi River management and invested

Lower Ninth Ward 2010

billions of taxpayer dollars on dams and levees to prevent flooding. That is to say, the U. S. Treaury was confiscated to protect private businesses and commerce from being destroyed by the untamed river.  Thus it was, that socialism got its start, or maybe it was an emergence from a fermenting underground where the secret seeds of destruction lie hidden in the bossom of some unknown communist soul.  Whatever!  So it came to be that private landowners and capitalists were not allowed to suffer the free market consequenes and handle their own problems; the federal government took over!  What?  Yes, it is true, the government took billions in taxpayer dollars and spent it on rescuing free market capitalism.  What a disgusting breach of individual freedoms.  Where on earth was the protest?  How could this happen in America?

President Herbert Hoover

But wait a minute!  Calm down a second! It is okay.  Republican President Herbert Hoover was in charge of this orchestration of social justice.  You know him.  He was the guy hanging around the White House when something called The Great Depression popped in on us.  He gets the honor as an early innovator of government interference into commerce.  Here’s a little history on his background in free market capitalism:

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As the United States Secretary of Commerce in the 1920s under Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge, he promoted government intervention under the rubric “economic modernization”. In the presidential election of 1928, Hoover easily won the Republican nomination, despite having no previous elected office experience. To date, Hoover is the last cabinet secretary to be directly elected President of the United States, as well as one of only two Presidents (along with William Howard Taft) to have been elected President without electoral experience or high military rank. The nation was prosperous and optimistic at the time, leading to a landslide victory for Hoover over Democrat Al Smith.


Excuse me!  Excuse me!  Did I call that government interference socialism?  I apologize. It was not socialism that rescued those capitalist river magnates of that day.  It was “economic modernization”.  Besides, it is just a rubric, and no one has been harmed by a rubric.  Anyway, that is the kind of government intervention that is okay.  It is sort of like ahh — that is what you call it — ahh — when government helps the wealthy free marketers, chosen landowners, bankers, financiers and the like.  It is okay.  That is not socialism.  No, socialism is when the government intervention is aimed at helping the poor and underprivileged when their neighborhoods are destroyed, or maybe when you talk about a healthcare program.  You just got to know who the program helps to keep the difference firmly in mind.

Here’s Part of the Wall Street Journal Piece That Caught the Moment for Me Today While Researching Another Story:

[stextbox id="grey"]Then came the massive flood of 1927 — to this day one of the greatest natural disasters in U.S. history. Heavy rains on the upper Mississippi unleashed a catastrophic flood from Tennessee and Arkansas down to the river’s mouth south of New Orleans. The river flooded more than one million homes and caused about $1.5 billion in damage in 2005 dollars. In some spots the Mississippi, usually about a half mile across, was transformed into a lake 60 miles wide. Most of New Orleans was spared, partly because officials dynamited a levee to let the floodwaters pour onto nearby rural land and into the southeastern reaches of the city, home to many of the citys poor African-Americans. Some residents were killed and others were left homeless. It was an affront that became legend in New Orleans poor neighborhoods. The flood was a transforming event. The disaster drove thousands of black residents from the area around the Mississippi to big Northern cities, and propelled Herbert Hoover, who was in charge of flood relief, to the presidency. Afterward, the federal government assumed near-total control of the river, and began pouring billions of dollars into shoring up its banks with tall, sturdy levees. Each year, millions of tons of sediment were dredged out of the river to make it navigable for ships and barges.[/stextbox]

Here we are again, and the economy still sucks too!

© 2010, Steve Drinkard. All rights reserved.

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  • KW Howe

    Fascinating essay. Kind of like the way Mssrs. Bush and Paulson “modernized” our banking system. Just another of the great ironies of the Republican Mythos. They run up the largest deficits in modern history (and force the same on subsequent Democratic administrations) and attach the title “tax and spend” to Democrats and claim their program of “don’t tax and spend” makes them the fiscally conservative and responsible party. They approve of torture, the death penalty and letting the poor go hungry but claim to be the party that upholds Christian values while claiming they are subverted by the godless socialists in the Democratic party who want to end the death penalty and provide basic medical care and housing to the poorest among us. It is a testament to the incredible power of advertising and media persuasion.

  • Steve Drinkard

    Well said Ken…. very well said. It amazes me that anyone has trouble seeing through what seems totally clear politically. That undoubtedly is where a totally dark collective shadow is covering the light of truth.

  • Steve Drinkard

    Well said Ken…. very well said. It amazes me that anyone has trouble seeing through what seems totally clear politically. That undoubtedly is where a totally dark collective shadow is covering the light of truth.