Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Diaspora, Blowing Down the Road

Steve Perry writes in the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Paper:

"What became of the 1927 refugees during and after the flood constitutes one of the more sordid and little-known episodes in the history of post-slavery America. It's recounted in John M. Barry's riveting book Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, and everyone who is even remotely interested in the fate of the present-day diaspora should read it.

The Delta cotton bosses of 1927, notes Barry, had been watching the ranks of sharecroppers and tenant farmers shrink for nearly two decades as the Great Migration of southern blacks to the industrial cities of the North proceeded. The labor shortage had grown critical before the flood, and as the river rose that spring, the main preoccupation of plantation owners was keeping their serfs from fleeing the premises for good. To minimize that risk, many planters during and after the flood employed armed thugs to keep blacks herded up in the makeshift levee encampments where they'd fled to escape the water. So great were the fears of cotton growers that on one occasion, federal flood czar Herbert Hoover got a consortium of them to pony up $200,000 in just three hours by telling them that if he didn't receive their guarantees by 5:00 that day, "I'll start sending your niggers north, starting tonight." Hoover got his money." Read more Katrina and the lessons of the 1927 flood.


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