When Hurricane Katrina pounded the southeast of New Orleans on August 29, 2005, the resultant flooding affected Greater New Orleans and claimed some 1,464 lives leaving damage worth $70 billion.
The haunting images of Black babies, mothers and males stuck on rooftops and the support services’ poor handling of the coordination and relief effort where Black people were left to drown, starve or die of dehydration or from lack of medical care exposed the U.S capitalist government’s disregard for Negroid life and the needs of its people.
Tens of thousands of people, mostly Black, lost the little they had. The National Guard when it came was rather keen to criminalize the victims and not to provide relief. At all levels, the government covered up the death toll and other evidence of its culpability.
It’s little wonder then that White New Orleans has recovered from Hurricane Katrina, 14 years on thanks to funding and white privilege.
But if Katrina was a bad dream, there’s a 1927 nightmare many folks are ignorant of also involving a deluge and the U.S. government’s callousness when it comes to African-American people.
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, a series of floods lasting several months – deluged 27,000 square miles in seven states. After months of torrential rain, levees burst from Illinois to Louisiana. An unknown number died—certainly in the thousands. Many were buried beneath tons of river mud or washed out into the Gulf of Mexico. Hundreds of thousands lost their homes; more than 325,000 people, most of them Blacks, lived in Red Cross camps for as long as four months.
Despite chattel slavery being outlawed, Black freedmen were still politically disenfranchised, and a social order based on debt servitude – sharecropping – was established.
John M. Barry’s “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America” gives better insight into The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how Black life was foully disregarded.
“Control of the wild waters of the Mississippi is key to the Gulf ports of Louisiana and to commercial river traffic. The river and its tributaries reach into more than 40 percent of the continental United States.”
As Barry documents in his book, the interests of the banks and planters determined “flood control” policies along the Mississippi. Barry also describes engineering decisions that led to the levee system, which only worsened the inevitable natural catastrophe.