Tent City

Blues

You have just survived the worst flood in the history of America. Your home was destroyed under 10 feet of water, and now you are living in a tent on a muddy hilltop. The National Guard troops in charge of the camp will not pay you for your work, and even food is not guaranteed. 

Your mother and sister look like they are going to starve under these conditions. Your friend has a plan to steal food from the supply tent. Will you do it? 

 

NMAAHC

After the dilemma:

What really happened

Black residents of the Mississippi Delta Region were already experiencing hardship before the flood. Most adults worked as farm laborers, and many women worked as domestic servants. Despite their hard work, the White bosses paid low wages, or no wages at all. Additionally, the KKK had recently been revived and its members were terrorizing the region with violence and intimidation.  

 

The heavy rain began in the winter of 1926, and continued through the spring of 1927. The flooding peaked in April, destroying 200,000 homes, and drowning over 1,000 people and hundreds of thousands of animals.

 

Relief camps were established on high ground throughout the region, and the conditions varied from camp to camp. Often the conditions resembled those of a prison or a slave plantation. The White guard troops forced the Black men to rebuild the levy and unload supplies from the Red Cross steamships. Worst of all, the men were not paid for their work, and many emergency food rations were eaten exclusively by the White guard troops. 

For many Black families, the destruction of their homes and the horrible conditions in the camps were motivating factors that led to the Great Migration. They left Mississippi and headed north for a new beginning, settling in cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit. The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 was a tragedy that motivated a great migration of people across the United States. 

The hardships faced by Black Southerners is reflected in the blues music from this era. Blues singer Bessie Smith recorded "Backwater Blues" about a previous flood in 1926, and Mattie Delaney recorded "Tallahatchie River Blues" in 1930. 

 

Sources

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/2001/05/mississippi-river-flood-culture/

https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/stories/collection/great-mississippi-river-flood-1927

http://www.mshistorynow.mdah.ms.gov/articles/230/the-flood-of-1927-and-its-impact-in-greenville-mississippi

Keywords

The Great Migration, Roaring 20s, Jim Crow Era

Jacob Lawrence
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