CNHI/The Star Herald
As I watch the unfolding drama of the approach of historic floodwaters to the state’s Delta region, I cannot help but return to thoughts of my late mother and the stories she told my sisters and me about the Great Flood of 1927.
Like my mother, so many of the victims of that cataclysm have died. Mother was five years old when her family was endangered by the 1927 flood that claimed their crops, their possessions and the course of their lives. Mom left the Delta at the age of five on a refugee train headed east to high ground and my grandparents’ relatives in Kemper County.
Her escape from the floodwaters began near the Humphreys County hamlet of Midnight - located southeast of Belzoni near the more metropolitan enclave of Silver City. The little shotgun house where Momma's family lived near Straight Bayou in those days of hard times is no more. During a 2000 side trip to Midnight while driving my mother to a class reunion at Mississippi Delta Community College, we did well to find a general location out from Midnight that looked vaguely familiar to her.
But her memories of the Flood of 1927 were as clear as her memories were at that time of what she’d had for breakfast that day.
Momma remembered the terror she felt watching men carry her elderly grandmother in a chair high over their heads as they waded chest-high in the brown waters to get her to the train. “I remember crying because I was so afraid they would drop Grandma and that she would drown,” my mother said. “Daddy sent me and Grandma back to Kemper County because she was too old to take care of herself and I was too young. I didn’t want Daddy to stay behind, but he was trying to save what he could – but we lost everything.”
The flood changed the lives and fortunes of my Haskins grandparents. In that one event, they went from landowners and farmers to sharecroppers. At the time, the Great Flood of 1927 was the greatest natural disaster ever to afflict the U.S. and much of the worst of that event took place in Mississippi.
For my mom’s parents, the flood washed away their lives with the crops my grandfather had in the ground in the spring of 1927 and with it his ability to make the mortgage note on the farm he’d bought the year before. When the waters receded, the bank foreclosed. It was a tableau repeated all across the Delta.
To put it in historical perspective, consider Mississippi’s fortunes over the last 150 years. First there was the Civil War and Reconstruction. Then the 1927 flood fundamentally changed the state’s economy on the verge of the next economic disaster – the Great Depression. With agriculture still struggling to recover after the 1927, the Depression delivered the second blow to the state’s economy.
By 1933, the state’s industrial jobs had declined by 46 percent and on one day in 1932, one-fourth of the state’s agricultural lands were sold for taxes. There would be other massive floods in 1942 and in 1973. Hurricanes would ravage the Gulf Coast in 1969 and again in 2005. There would be tornadoes, oil spills and catastrophes great and small continuing until today.
Mississippi will weather these latest storms, floods and difficult economy. While Mississippi’s luck at times seems to have run out, this state’s resilience never will.
Like my mother – the five-year-old refugee of the Flood of 1927 – who died of old age in 2005 at age 82 and who never bowed to hardship, loss, challenges or heartbreak.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at 662-325-2506 or firstname.lastname@example.org.