A scholar’s cross-disciplinary attending aback at the little-remembered greatest accustomed disaster in American history.
Even as Charles Lindbergh took off on his celebrated abandoned bridge of the Atlantic, a celebration of modernity, Commerce Secretary Herbert Hoover, appointed by President Calvin Coolidge to manage adversity relief, ordered the aborticide of 35,000 bodies from a Louisiana town, one baby allotment of the confusion wrought by the Mississippi superflood of 1927. Although Parrish (English/Univ. of Michigan.; American Curiosity: Cultures of Accustomed History in the Colonial British Atlantic World, 2006, etc.) sketches out the ambit of this catastrophe, she’s beneath interested in a diminutive annual of the slow-moving, abiding flood than in exploring how such a adversity acquires meaning. Through assorted lenses—sociological, ecological, cultural, and aesthetic—she focuses on the aphotic ancillary of modernity, the apocalyptic portents of the approaching accompanying the deluge: the counterfeit contributions—clear-cutting, industrial farming, adulterated beach design—to the flood’s magnitude; the harsh economics and the alike added astringent ageism that larboard African-Americans most vulnerable to the flood’s depredations and atomic helped by the federal “relief machine”; the aberrant communications apparatus—the anew nationalized radio medium, the common white and atramentous press—reporting the unfolding crisis, authoritative it a aggregate rather than alone clandestine experience; and the contemporaneous representations and interpretations of the adversity by popular entertainers. Too generally hobbled by bookish locutions and a specialist’s vocabulary, Parrish’s ambitious, dense, acutely researched narrative nevertheless rewards committed accepted readers. It requires no doctorate to appreciate her apprehension of the arresting aback adventure to Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues”; her astute altercation of the trauma’s conversion into constant works of arcane fiction by William Faulkner, Richard Wright, and Zora Neale Hurston; her assay of the assiduous North/South hostility that complicated abatement efforts; and her analysis of 1927’s vaudeville scene, from the destructive African-American stars Miller and Lyles to the high-profile, broadly influential, and, in the author’s telling, somewhat problematic Will Rogers.
As a cubist might, Parrish paints a able account of catastrophe: sometimes puzzling, generally surprising, and wholly original.
The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, which covered nearly thirty thousand square miles across seven states, was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history. Due to the speed of new media and the slow progress of the flood, this was the first environmental disaster to be experienced on a mass scale. As it moved from north to south down an environmentally and technologically altered valley, inundating plantations and displacing more than half a million people, the flood provoked an intense and lasting cultural response. The Flood Year 1927 draws from newspapers, radio broadcasts, political cartoons, vaudeville, blues songs, poetry, and fiction to show how this event took on public meanings.
Americans at first seemed united in what Herbert Hoover called a great relief machine, but deep rifts soon arose. Southerners, pointing to faulty federal levee design, decried the attack of Yankee water. The condition of African American evacuees in concentration camps prompted pundits like W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida B. Wells to warn of the return of slavery to Dixie. And environmentalists like Gifford Pinchot called the flood the most colossal blunder in civilized history. Susan Scott Parrish examines how these and other key figures--from entertainers Will Rogers, Miller & Lyles, and Bessie Smith to authors Sterling Brown, William Faulkner, and Richard Wright--shaped public awareness and collective memory of the event.
The crises of this period that usually dominate historical accounts are war and financial collapse, but The Flood Year 1927 enables us to assess how mediated environmental disasters became central to modern consciousness.
The Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History
- BookThe Flood Year 1927: A Cultural History
- Author:Susan Scott Parrish
- Publishing Date:2016-12-26
- Publisher:Princeton University Press
- Number Of pages:416