A New York Times Notable Book of the Year, winner of the Southern Book Critics Circle Award and the Lillian Smith Award.
An American epic of science, politics, race, honor, high society, and the Mississippi River, Rising Tide tells the riveting and nearly forgotten story of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. The river inundated the homes of almost one million people, helped elect Huey Long governor and made Herbert Hoover president, drove hundreds of thousands of African Americans north, and transformed American society and politics forever.
The flood brought with it a human storm: white and black collided, honor and money collided, regional and national powers collided. New Orleans’s elite used their power to divert the flood to those without political connections, power, or wealth, while causing Black sharecroppers to abandon their land to flee up north. The states were unprepared for this disaster and failed to support the Black community. The racial divides only widened when a white officer killed a Black man for refusing to return to work on levee repairs after a sleepless night of work.
In the powerful prose of Rising Tide, John M. Barry removes any remaining veil that there had been equality in the South. This flood not only left millions of people ruined, but further emphasized the racial inequality that have continued even to this day.
The worst natural disaster in U.S. history, the Mississippi River flood of 1927, which killed more than 1000 people and left 900,000 homeless from Cairo, Ill., to New Orleans, had a far-reaching impact on American society, as revealed in this gripping grassroots epic, redolent with gothic passions of the Old South. The flood shattered the myth of a quasifeudal bond between Delta blacks and the Southern aristocracy. African American flood victims were the principal occupants of squalid Red Cross refugee camps rife with profiteering, pellagra and murders and beatings of blacks by white policemen and civilians. Barry reports that black refugees were given just enough food to avoid starvation, were denied federal reparation through legalistic maneuvers and were compelled by gun-wielding National Guardsmen to work on dangerous levees. The flood triggered an exodus of Southern blacks to Chicago and Los Angeles, among other cities. The cataclysm also marked a watershed, the author persuasively argues, because although the Coolidge administration did virtually nothing to help flood victims recover economically, a public outcry shifted U.S. opinion toward favoring a more activist federal government. The flood made Herbert Hoover, Coolidge's commerce secretary, a national hero, solidifying his presidential ambitions after he headed a special federal rescue effort to handle the emergency. An extraordinary tale of greed, power politics, racial conflict and bureaucratic incompetence, Barry's saga begins in the 1870s as two influential engineers--James Eads, who built a Mississippi-spanning bridge in St. Louis, and army surveyor Andrew Humphreys--battle over how to contain the wild, erratic river. The focus then shifts to Mississippi's powerful Percy family--to railroad magnate W.A. Percy, pioneer of the sharecropping system; to his son LeRoy, banker, plantation owner, senator, who protected blacks against demagogues and the Ku Klux Klan; to poet and lawyer Will (LeRoy's son), ineffectual head of a flood relief committee; and to novelist Walker Percy, Will's blood cousin and adopted son. A cast of power-hungry villains and crusading reformist heroes rounds out this momentous chronicle, which revises our understanding of the shaping of modern America. Photos. BOMC and History Book Club alternate.
Gripping at times, slow at others
Tells the often fascinating stories of engineers, politicians, and planters who developed the delta and tried to control the river that created it.
This is a fabulous book that should be read by every American. The author's research and ability to weave the fabric of disparate but interrelated events is superb. I whole heartedly recommend it.