This is one of the most powerful books I ve ever read It s thick but I would not have wanted it any shorter I was born in Texas because of this flood My father s parents added up their earnings from a year of sharecropping in southern Louisiana, and it came to 14 They moved to get jobs for several years But until I read this book, I had no idea that my family is only a tiny ripple of lingering consequences from that flood Aftereffects are visible in local and national politics in the USA The accounts of what happened in Greenville and around New Orleans are painful As for what we ve done to the river When I hear some Britons talk about what they want to do to some of their rivers to manage flooding, I tell them to read this book I tell them not to make the same mistakes with their rivers that we made with our grandest river. Don t let the title fool you, while the focus of the book is the great 1927 flood an event overlooked today , this is a book about the Mississippi River and man s attempt to live with and in some cases tame it Full of rich descriptions of men and women whose lives were shaped by the river and the 1927 flood, and of powerful men who tried to control and profit from it, including one who became President, this book really grabs you from the outset.Starting with early attempts to erect bridges over it, to map its courses and devise ways to keep it from hampering economic growth in the Mississippi Delta, through its role during the Civil War, and how it affected economics, culture and race relations in the south, the Mississippi River itself is a character in this story, with a personality all its own This is expertly brought to life by Barry.Most fascinating for me was the many ways in which the 1927 flood so profoundly changed the character of the deep south, and how in many ways it set back nascent progress on race relations In order to combat the flood blacks were forced to work, shoring up levees, hauling supplies and digging trenches, all at gunpoint and without adequate food and shelter to sustain themselves In many places particularly Greenville, MS which in many ways was the epicenter of the flood , white leaders, aided and abetted by the Red Cross virtually re instituted slavery Prior to the flood, through the cooperation of local blacks and the relatively enlightened views of its leaders, particularly LeRoy Percy a central figure in the latter half of the book , race relations had seen improvement The flood, and the reaction of the white leadership to it nearly destroyed all that.It also profoundly reshaped the labor system in the South One reason why white leaders were so eager to keep blacks under foot during the crisis was to prevent them from leaving the Delta where they were the primary source of labor However, once the waters had receded and it became apparent promises of restitution from local leaders and from the federal government were not going to be forthcoming, many blacks began migrating to the north This caused a huge problem for large landowners who relied on the labor blacks provided, and from their percentage of income from sharecropper activities It certainly helped hasten the transition to a de facto free labor system which had only existed in name only up until that time a transition that continues to be a very painful one for the region.Also interesting is the affect the flood had on presidential politics, and on the eventual shift in the relation between the federal government and her citizens that we saw under President Franklin Roosevelt Herbert Hoover, Calvin Coolidge s Commerce Secretary of Commerce was tasked to coordinate the government response to the flood It was his work, and the positive press he received from it that propelled him to the White House.Hoover was tasked by Coolidge to coordinate the efforts of mostly private organizations as they attempted to deal with the enormous human suffering that was the result of the flood Coolidge himself refused to set what he considered a dangerous precedent by providing the type of government disaster relief we take for granted today As a result he was the focus of extensive media and public criticism for what was viewed as a heartless reaction to the crisis All the while Hoover was being lionized in the press as the only member of the administration willing to do something about the crisis Coolidge s opposition to government relief, however, was a policy with which Hoover totally agreed It also foreshadowed the disastrous way he reacted to the Great Depression.In hindsight the resources brought to bear by Hoover were wholly inadequate, and in many case failed to provide even minimally adequate relief It was this same strategy that he used as President, to try and relieve the suffering experienced by so many during the Great Depression a strategy that failed miserably and gave rise to FDR and the active governmental role he implemented It was also the beginning of the end of the alliance between African Americans and the Republican Party.I found very little to criticize in this book Occasionally Barry provided a bit detail, particularly about financial matters, than was probably necessary to make his point, but that is a minor quibble Overall highly valuable book, about a significant even in American history that is often overlooked Highly recommended In , The Mississippi River Swept Across An Area Roughly Equal In Size To Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, And Vermont Combined, Leaving Water As Deep As Thirty Feet On The Land Stretching From Illinois And Missouri South To The Gulf Of Mexico Close To A Million People In A Nation Of Million Were Forced Out Of Their Homes Some Estimates Place The Death Toll In The Thousands The Red Cross Fed Nearly , Refugees For Months Rising Tide Is The Story Of This Forgotten Event, The Greatest Natural Disaster This Country Has Ever Known But It Is Not Simply A Tale Of Disaster The Flood Transformed Part Of The Nation And Had A Major Cultural And Political Impact On The Rest Rising Tide Is An American Epic About Science, Race, Honor, Politics, And Society Rising Tide Begins In The Nineteenth Century, When The First Serious Attempts To Control The River Began The Story Focuses On Engineers James Eads And Andrew Humphreys, Who Hated Each Other Out Of The Collision Of Their Personalities And Their Theories Came A Compromise River Policy That Would Lead To The Disaster Of The Flood Yet Would Also Allow The Cultivation Of The Yazoo Mississippi Delta And Create Wealth And Aristocracy, As Well As A Whole Culture In The End, The Flood Had Indeed Changed The Face Of America, Leading To The Most Comprehensive Legislation The Government Had Ever Enacted, Touching The Entire Mississippi Valley From Pennsylvania To Montana In Its Aftermath Was Laid The Foundation For The New Deal Of Franklin D Roosevelt This book explains many issues that I never understood from my basic public school history class taught by a coach years When did blacks defect from the Republican party, the party of Lincoln, and flock to the Democrat party Why did they do that When did the federal government first step in to organize help after a disaster where before local communities were on their own I have read John Barry s other book on The Great Influenza , and found it to be an absolutely excellent book This book is only slightly less gripping, but that is because the influenza book had doctors in it, and I ve always been partial to medicine and physicians This book has engineers, my second favorite group of people, so it stands a close second now.Measured from the head of the Missouri RIver, the Mississippi river is the longest river in the world It stretches from Canada in the north to the Gulf of Mexico in the south, then from New York and North Carolina in the east to Idaho and New Mexico in the west The Mississippi River valley is 20% larger than China s Yellow River, twice as big as the Nile river in Egypt and twice as big as the Ganges in India 15 times larger than the Rhine in Europe Only the river barely and the Congo have larger drainage basins than the Mississippi River.Controlling the river so that it serves the purpose of man has been a huge engineering project since the mid 1800 s How to control it with levees with cut throughs with reservoirs A combination The first part of the book deals with two engineers who would decide the control and method of management of the river James Buchanan Eads was one of the most brilliant engineers of all time, ranked by the deans of American engineering colleges with da Vinci and Edison Andrew Atkinson Humphreys was the other Union soldier engineer from the Army Corps of Engineers A bitter rivalry between these two men eventually caused the formation of a committee to determine which method proposed by the two men would determine how the Mississippi River would be managed True to form, the committee selected the worst components of each man s recommendation, and selected a solution that neither man would ever have wanted, a levees only solution.Levees restrict the river to flow between them Cut offs are a way of straightening the river by cutting through the S bend s created naturally Reservoirs were a way to capture runoff flood waters and direct them into man made lakes The levees only policy set up the river to amass the largest level of flooding ever recorded in the 1927 flood New Orleans, the origins and politics, are explained in fairly great detail in this book It was settled not by immigrants, but by blue blooded families of importance who came to the area because of the amazing availability to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico Immigrants and former slaves made up a huge portion of the people in the area, but the city itself was ruled and ruled very efficiently by an elite cadre of families Because of James Eads who established man made jetties that kept the mouth of the Mississippi River clear of sandbars, New Orleans became a stable port and very prosperous city So when the 1927 flood threatened New Orleans, a deal was struck by the elite New Orleans rulers to dynamite the levees of downriver St Bernard parish and Plaquemines Parish These two parishes were much poorer than New Orleans and the deal struck was that the city of New Orleans and the city elite would pay back damages to the people impacted The levees there were dynamited, the surrounding areas were flooded, but reparations to the affected people became a legal nightmare City officials backed away from their promises, the city elite also backed away from their promises People in the area eventually fought back with their votes, and the unrest in the area brought in a new political group, one led by Huey Long instead of the elite families In answer to the questions I raised above, here are the answers I found.Blacks defected from the Republican Party after Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928 Hoover had worked as the Secretary of Commerce during the 1927 flood and during the aftermath His efficient organization of aid to the area would keep his name in newspapers and before the public in such a way that he received the Republican nomination for the 1928 election Hoover had worked with Robert Russa Moton, head of the Tuskegee Institute after Booker T Washington died, to provide accountability for the relief effort among blacks Moton was led to believe by Hoover that he Hoover would provide a means for blacks to sharecrop in the areas controlled by the New Orleans elite families Hoover deceived Moton, and as a result lost the votes of those blacks affected adversely by the 1927 flood Blacks left the south in huge numbers, and many from the Mississippi Louisiana New Orleans area moved to Chicago.Herbert Hoover, as Secretary of Commerce organizing relief efforts for the 1927 flood, was the first to request that the Federal Government step in to organize things that were too big for the local states and communities The 1927 flood simply overwhelmed southern states in scope of devastation and need to get an influx of cash to rebuild Calvin Coolidge, who was president at the time, resisted strongly in committing the Federal Government to such activities But eventually pressure from the local communities, the states affected, and those political machines who sought to re establish governance of those areas along different lines, prevailed And thus, the 1927 Mississippi River flood became THE FIRST disaster where the federal government stepped in to organize and provide disaster relief In the past, natural disasters were dealt with by those communities and states that were affected But after 1927, that precedent was changed, amazingly enough against the wishes of the President of the United States and most of Congress An interesting aside the head of the New Orleans Weather Bureau was Isaac Cline Those of you who have read Isaac s Story about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, will remember his name He was head of the Galveston Weather Bureau when the hurricane practically destroyed Galveston Cline s wife and unborn child died in the Galveston Hurricane He was able to rescue his 3 daughters As a sort of demotion in the Weather Bureau, he was sent to New Orleans, where he served well although without enthusiasm for the area To the credit of Cline, he fairly and accurately reported river surges and provided warnings to those along the Mississippi River during the 1927 flood I am reading Isaac s Storm also right now, and was amazed that he also played a part in this event Charley Patton expertly summarized both the majesty and impact of the great Mississippi flood of 1927 in under three minutes in High Water Everywhere Well, backwater done rose all around Sumner now, drove me down the line Backwater done rose at Sumner, drove poor Charley down the line Lord, I ll tell the world the water, done crept through this town Lord, the whole round country, Lord, river has overflowed Lord, the whole round country, man, is overflowed You know I can t stay here, I ll go where it s high, boy I would go to the hilly country, but, they got me barred Now, look a here now at Leland river was risin high Look a here boys around Leland tell me, river was raisin high Boy, it s risin over there, yeah I m gonna move to Greenville fore I leave, goodbye Look a here the water now, Lordy, Levee broke, rose most everywhere The water at Greenville and Leland, Lord, it done rose everywhere Boy, you can t never stay here I would go down to Rosedale but, they tell me there s water there Now, the water now, mama, done took Charley s town Well, they tell me the water, done took Charley s town Boy, I m goin to Vicksburg Well, I m goin to Vicksburg, for that high of mine I am goin up that water, where lands don t never flow Well, I m goin over the hill where, water, oh don t ever flow Boy, hit Sharkey County and everything was down in Stovall But, that whole county was leavin , over that Tallahatchie shore Boy,went to Tallahatchie and got it over there Lord, the water done rushed all over, down old Jackson road Lord, the water done raised, over the Jackson road Boy, it starched my clothes I m goin back to the hilly country, won t be worried no Dylan also summarizes the critical events of the Mississippi flood of 1927 in High Water For Charley Patton High water risin risin night and day All the gold and silver are being stolen away Big Joe Turner lookin East and West From the dark room of his mind He made it to Kansas City Twelfth Street and Vine Nothing standing there High water everywhere High water risin , the shacks are slidin down Folks lose their possessions folks are leaving town Bertha Mason shook it broke it Then she hung it on a wall Says, You re dancin with whom they tell you to Or you don t dance at all It s tough out there High water everywhere High water risin , six inches bove my head Coffins droppin in the street Like balloons made out of lead Water pourin into Vicksburg, don t know what I m going to do Don t reach out for me, she said Can t you see I m drownin too It s rough out there High water everywhere If it s an epic event for Patton and Dylan, it s epic enough for me Not certain what Barry can add to these two songs, or why he needs 527 pages, but I guess I m willing to take a chance Everyone should likewise take a chance on Screamin and Hollerin the Blues The Worlds of Charley Patton the best cd box set ever. Quite interesting historically, politically, geographically, scientifically.and, to a lesser degree than what I d hoped for, a sociological exploration of the massive Mississippi River basin and the flood of 1927 in relation to agriculture, geographical division, political power, economy, transportation, and race relations An exceptionally noteworthy book, in that it s studiously researched and documented, yet maintains an entertaining, conversational fluidity However, there were times when I felt inundated by microscopic details and or unnecessary tributary side notes And I would have liked the inclusion of photographs depicting the flood itself and the plight of the common people affected as opposed to so many portraits of grandstanding notables FOUR Historically Environmentally Studious and Sociological Relevant STARS One day in the mid seventies while driving across the great plains and listening to Don McLean sing American Pie, It was a great time to be in America,most Americans needed little instruction in how they wanted to live They were optimistic about the future The black and white days were over.Bye bye, Miss American Pie.drove my Chevy to the leveebut the levee was dry I turned to my brother and his partner and asked what is a levee They both looked at me as if what kind of trolodyke I might be.A few months later we stayed with my sister in law s Grandmother who lived at the foot of a levee on the Mississippi, she told us stories about the river that made it come alive, we then climbed up that bank and all of a sudden there it was this huge and majestic river with just a levee to keep us safe.Rising Tide It s no just the story of a levee, it s the story of how much we are willing to gamble for profit, and if we lose how that can change the course of history I would recommend it, not at all like his other book. There s nothing worse for an old American history major to read a book and discover how ignorant of that history he really is The 1927 flood of the Mississippi River may have been the worst natural disaster in terms of people displaced and society destroyed that America has ever faced it quite simply dwarfs Hurricane Katrina in 2005 The author details the battles over man s often futile attempts to control the Mississippi the rich and racist white society that controlled the Deep South and their attempts to preserve that society through the subjugation of Black Americans trapped in tenant farming, nothing but a legalized form of slavery.The author also shows the rise of Herbert Hoover, the so called Great Humanitarian, who in reality was selfish, grabbing, bigoted and racist Finally, the author documents the acceleration of the Great Black Migration, the splitting of Black Americans from the Republican Party, and the slow and inexorable decline of New Orleans. I picked up this book wondering how any author could spend over 400 pages documenting the Mississippi River flooding of 1927 The raging flood came, went away, better levees were built right Well, there s a lot to it than that This worthy volume takes the reader from the days of James Buchanan Eads who built the first bridge across the lower Mississippi , who favored spillways to contain the raging river s inevitable floods, and his rival engineer Edward Humphreys, who favored ever taller levees When the incessant rains and floods came, they were pervasive and worse than anyone had imagined Author John M Barry details not only what happened in the Delta cotton country but what happened on Mississippi tributaries, too, leaving hundreds of thousands of poor farm families destitute and homeless When the flood hits, the author concentrates on little Greenville, Mississippi, including the aristocratic Percy family one cousin of whom was novelist Walker Percy , that ran the plantations and dominated politics also then reigning New Orleans, which tried to save itself by having levees downriver dynamited By trying to raise quick labor to raise the levees, the Percys and other leaders conscripted black sharecroppers and then brutalized and abused them, making of Greenville a sore spot in race relations in what was once a relatively tolerant area New Orleans inability to fulfill its commitments to reimburse those it flooded out and its duplicity in tweaking the legal system to its advantage gave rise to Louisiana populism, most notably Huey Long RISING TIDE is a readable and useful chronicle of a surprisingly underdocumented subject in national history Reading this book helps readers understand the shifting national politics of the late 1920 s and 1930 s, and such social phenomena as the exodus of disenfranchised blacks to the cities of the North I would have hoped that a book of this scope and specificity would have than one overview map, but that s a minor deficit in such a generous study. I found this a fantastic look at both the geology hydrology of the Mississippi River and the society that grew around its delta Mr Barry does a very commendable job of exploring both the problems and advantages of living next to the longest river in North America.The author starts out the narrative by exploring the attempts to tame the Mississippi Riven the late 19th Century and the rivalry that developed between two men Gen Andrew Humphreys head of the Army s Engineer Department and a self taught engineer and Mississippi expert James Eads The class of egos between these two men and what it did to the theories of channeling the river and delta is very well done Gen Humphreys comes off by far the worse in comparison He is depicted as not willing to give an inch to Eads and feeling that not only is he right, but Eads doesn t know a thing about the river.Eads theories are rooted in his experiences as both a river pilot and a man who salvages river wrecks and their cargos This includes actually walking on the river bottom The two theories can mainly be summed in levees vs jetties The levee to hold the river in its channel and the jetties to help the river scour a new channel It discussing the river, Mr Berry also looks at how the river dug it channel, the shear amount of water and silt the river carries at any one time, the nature of the Delta and exactly how big it is almost up to the Mississippi Arkansas border One fact that struck me is that from Vicksburg, Miss down to the mouth of the river that river bottom is actually below sea level and the water at the bottom of the river has no reason to keep on moving and the affect this has on the hydrology of the river.The next section of the narrative looks at the Percy family of the upper Delta In looking at the Percy family, the author looks at their, for the times, liberal attitude in race relations This does not mean that they had the same ideals of race relations as modern people, but the Percy s went out of their way to see blacks in their county educated the Greenville the power base of the Percy family public schools spent money per black student that the rest of the state spent per student on white children, suppress lynching and they treated their share croppers fairly The author also looks at Leroy Percy s, the last Senator from Mississippi to be selected by the State Legislature, fight to expel the KKK from Greenville in particular and Northern Miss in general The author relates ones episode in Greenville where a white man who attempted to lynch one of the black residents was himself lynched The impression this section left with me is that the Percy family in general and LeRoy in particular were not particularly racist, but of a classist, ie everyone has his her place is society and should stay there.In addition to Percy s the author looks a New Orleans and who were the power brokers in the city It wasn t the elected officials In discussing the power brokers he also looks at how bigotry and antisemitism gradually took hold in the power welding circles in New Orleans.As the author tells the story of the people living in the Delta, the power of the Mississippi is always in the background There had been several major floods in the two generations preceding the 1927 flood and one of the items Mr Berry discusses is the growth of the levee system and the actual size the levees themselves As the flood waters rise, the attempts to protect the levees and raise them is extremely well done He also does a good job of explaining how a levee fails It s not just from water overlapping the levee, but the river can undermine also This section looks at how principles and people can be overcome by events During the 27 flood, the need for labor on the levees even the Percys resort to the whole sale conscription of black men, sometimes literally at gunpoint, to work on the levees with almost no compensation and with white foremen, really echoing the conditions of the antebellum southern plantations Some this is a really hard read Mr Berry also looks at how the power brokers in New Orleans NO conned the people of two parrishes south of the city to blow their levees in an attempt to save the city In order to get the buy in of the leadership of the two affected parrishes, the men of NO promised to fully compensate the people of the parishes for their monetary losses To put is simply, after the floods subsided NO decided to play hard ball with the compensation and Mr Berry supposes this led directly to the rise of Huey Long One of the sad things about this story is that the levees didn t have to be breeched The river started to recede the day before they were dynamited.In looking at the flood in general, Herbert Hoover and the Federal Government s role in fighting the flood is explored At the time all flood control was the responsibility of the states, after the flood legislation was passed in Congress make flood control on the Mississippi the responsibility of the Federal Gov t Mr Barry opines that this laid the intellectual basis for FDR s wholesale involvement in the economy during the Great Depression He also states that Hoover s work during the crisis led directly to his succeeding Coolidge as president of the US.All in all this is a very good look at a pivotal moment in US history I would rate this 4.25 if GR allowed, so I ve rounded down.
John M Barry is an American author and historian, perhaps best known for his books on the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 the influenza pandemic of 1918and his book on the development of the modern form of the ideas of separation of church and state and individual liberty His most recent book is Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul Church, State, and the Birth of Liberty Viking
- 524 pages
- Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America
- John M. Barry
- 02 May 2018 John M. Barry