Game-changing Flood of 1927 rocked Louisiana — and the country
Americans received a painful reminder of the power of the Mississippi River when, after months of excessive rainfall, the river overflowed its banks in seven states, the most destructive flood in American history to that point. The flood displaced some 630,000 people — 1 percent of the American population – in addition to killing 246 and ringing up more than $100 million in crop and livestock losses.
As a direct result of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, Congress passed the Jones-Reid Flood Control Act of 1928, which federalized flood protection along the Mississippi and its tributaries, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers overseeing such efforts.
- With levees failing in 145 places, 27,000 square miles of land was flooded, as deep as 30 feet in some places. The river flooded as far as 60 miles east of Greenville, Miss., and 75 miles from Vicksburg, Miss., to Monroe, La.
- With relief efforts prioritizing white communities over black communities, the flood became a key accelerator in the Great Migration of African-Americans from the South to northern states, which continued from 1910 to 1970.
- Before 1927, federal authorities tried to control the Mississippi with a “levees-only” policy. The Great Mississippi Flood, however, taught them they could contain the river but never fully control it, prompting the introduction of spillways, floodways and similar strategies to supplement levees.
- Singer-songwriter Randy Newman memorialized the flood in his 1974 song “Louisiana 1927.” It returned poignantly to popularity after the flooding associated with 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
- Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover was assigned by President Calvin Coolidge to mobilize response to the flood. Hoover’s handling of the disaster response is credited with helping him win the presidency in the election of 1928.
As communities upstream flooded, and with a series of five storms dumping rain on New Orleans, alarmed authorities took a dramatic and controversial step: To relieve pressure on levees at New Orleans, in April 1927 they dynamited a levee downstream in Caernarvon. The decision displaced about 10,000 people in lower St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. Few property owners were compensated, leading to decades of lingering bitterness.