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The Flood of 1927The film Fatal Flood and this companion website offer insights into topics in American history including race relations, sharecropping, the agricultural economy, natural resource management, humanitarian aid, and conflict between community and personal interests. You can use part or all of the film, or delve into the rich resources available on this website to learn more, either in a classroom or on your own.

The following activities are grouped into four categories: history, economics, geography, and civics. You can also read a few helpful hints for completing the activities.

History

1. Read the excerpts from Will Percy's autobiographyLanterns on the Levee. (a) What do these excerpts tell you about the relationship between Will and his father? (b) What role did Will's father play in the decision whether to evacuate the black residents of Greenville during the flood? (c) How might this experience have affected Will's attitude toward the African Americans of Greenville, as shown in his speech regarding the killing of a black man by a white policeman?

2. Read the Final Report of the Colored Advisory Commission. What problems does it describe in the effort to provide relief to victims of the flood?

Economics

1. To learn more about the conditions in which sharecroppers lived, visit the website of Library of Congress's American Memory digital collections. In the Photos & Prints collection, search for the term "sharecropper" (to further refine your search, add the terms "Mississippi" and/or "Delta"). View at least a dozen of the photos. Then describe what these photos tell you about the lives of sharecroppers.

2. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, as the Southern economy shifted away from farming and toward manufacturing, many African Americans in Southern states were pushed out of skilled manufacturing jobs to make room for whites. Examine the table below. (a) What general statement can you make from the data in the table? (b) How might the trend shown in this table have affected the migration of African Americans from southern to northern states?

 

Proportion of Black Males in Skilled and Semi-Skilled Manufacturing and Mechanical Jobs in Selected Southern States, 1910 and 1920

State 1910 1920
Alabama 36% 8%
Arkansas 23% 24%
Florida 30% 30%
Georgia 52% 35%
Louisiana 28% 27%
Mississippi 26% 28%
North Carolina 33% 30%
South Carolina 54% 38%
Tennessee 37% 25%
Texas 19% 25%

(Source: Harrison, Alferdteen, ed. Black Exodus: the Great Migration from the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.)

Geography

1. Read about the Mississippi River Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers. (a) To understand how levees work, construct a model using the NOVA activity "Overflowing the Banks" and follow the procedures outlined there. (Note that the NOVA activity was designed to explore the flood of 1993 rather than the Great Flood of 1927.) (b) In the 1993 case shown by the NOVA activity, the building of floodwalls to protect St. Louis caused floods farther upstream; in other words, one community's efforts to protect itself against the flood had the unintended effect of endangering other communities. Similarly, prior to the Great Flood of 1927, communities on opposite sides of the Mississippi River realized that what was in the interest of one community wasn't necessarily in the interest of another community. Explain why this was so.

2. The Great Flood of 1927 affected an area of 27,000 square miles. To appreciate the extent of the flooded area, picture your community in the center of a circle, the radius of which is about 93 miles long. Draw or photocopy a map of your state (and, if necessary, surrounding states) and draw a circle showing the areas that would be contained within such a circle. Color the area within the circle blue to represent the flood and label the communities and other notable places located within the circle. What geographical features in your area would a flood affect? What manmade features would be affected?

Civics

1. Read about the northern migration of sharecroppers in the 1920s. Then examine a table on the growth of Chicago. (a) Use this data to construct a line graph showing the increase in Chicago's population between 1830 and 1990. (b) What role did the Great Flood play in Chicago's growth? (c) How does the graph show you that many other factors also contributed to the city's population increase? (d) When did the growth in Chicago's population slow dramatically? What event might have contributed to this development?

2. Read about how LeRoy Percy kept the Klan out of Greenville, Mississippi, then read short biographies of James K. Vardman and LeRoy Percy. In your opinion, does LeRoy Percy deserve more admiration for his efforts on behalf of African Americans in the Mississippi Delta, or criticism for his belief in white supremacy and his opposition to evacuating the black citizens of Greenville during the flood? Write a 300-word essay on this topic and read it aloud to the class.


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