Publication Date

4-15-2017

Advisor(s)

Paul Erickson

Major

History (HIST)

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

This thesis broadly explores issues of narrative containment and representation in the wake of the Mississippi Flood of 1927. The Flood, one of this nation’s largest environmental disasters, displaced over 630,000 people and submerged over 26,000 square miles for months in the Lower Mississippi River Valley, but statistics alone do not adequately represent its significance. When the floodwaters finally retreated, they left not only watermarks on homes, but also a profound influence on the political, physical, and social landscapes of the United States. The racial and economic inequalities in the American South, and particularly the Mississippi Delta, made the Flood a double disaster for many African Americans, who were made to endure not only the floodwaters, but also abuse and discrimination in the relief camps run by the Red Cross. This thesis begins by examining the construction of an “official” narrative about the Flood by the Red Cross and the disruption of that narrative by black newspapers. The second half seeks to expand the historical narrative frame of the Flood by exploring its consequences like the accelerated migration of African Americans out of the South and drawing connections between the Flood of 1927 and contemporary flooding disasters, like Hurricane Katrina and the submersion of parts of coastal Louisiana. Ultimately, this thesis argues that the story of the Flood and its survivors defied and continue to defy literal and discursive containment, in a variety of ways. Much like the muddy waters of the Mississippi River pushed over and through the levees, the legacy of the Flood of 1927 has spilled over, seeping into and saturating United States history.

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