Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Lasting legacies...........................

Ed. Note:  For previous coverage of the Great Flood of 1927, go here.

Out west, the good weather was the best possible news, for the waters of the Mississippi were finally receding, if slowly.  One and a half million acres were still underwater as July began, but the worst was over and Herbert Hoover was at last able to leave the day-to-day running of relief efforts to others.
     For Hoover, the Mississippi flood relief was a personal triumph.  He was especially proud that the federal government had provided no financial assistance at all.  All the money for relief efforts came in the form of donations from private citizens and organizations like the Red Cross and the Rockefeller Foundation.  "But those were the days," Hoover noted with a certain misty fondness in his memoirs thirty years later, "when citizens expected to take care of one another in time of disaster and it had not occurred to them that the Federal Government should do it."  In fact, the support provided for those trying to get back on their feet was hopelessly inadequate.  Hoover helped push through the creation of a $13 million loan fund to help flood victims, which sounds reasonably generous, but worked out to just $20 per victim, and was, for all that, only a loan, hardly useful to even the poorest person who had lost everything.
     The great Mississippi flood of 1927 had two lasting legacies.  First, if accelerated the movement of blacks out of the South in what is known as the Great Migration.  Between 1920 and 1930, 1.3 million southern blacks moved north in the hopes of finding better-paying jobs and more personal liberty.  The movement transformed the face of America in a decade.  Before the Great Migration, only 10 percent of blacks lived outside the South.  After the Great Migration, half did.
     The other important effect of the Mississippi flood was that it forced the Federal government to accept that certain matters are too big for the states to handle alone.  For all of Hoover's proud reminiscence of how relief efforts were entirely private, it was widely recognize that government could not stand by when disaster struck.  1928, Calvin Coolidge reluctantly signed into law the Flood Control Act, which appropriated $325 million to try to avert future disasters.  It was, in the view of many, the birth of Big Government in America.  Coolidge hated the idea and refused to have any kind of ceremony to celebrate the passing of the act.  Instead, he signed the bill in private, then went to lunch.

-Bill Bryson,  One Summer:  America, 1927

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