The 1927 Great Mississippi Flood was the most destructive river flood in U.S. history.
After months of torrential rains, flooding along the Mississippi River reached biblical proportions by the spring of 1927. In one 18-hour period, 15 inches of rain fell on the City of New Orleans. And just a month later, outside of Memphis, the river expanded to 60 miles wide. From Illinois to Mississippi, Kentucky to Texas, the river flooded 27,000 square miles with up to 30 feet of water. Arkansas was the hit hardest, with 14 percent of the state under water. “Flood water spreading all around, people everywhere trying to make higher ground,” blues musician Eric Bibb would later sing about the event. The Great Flood took the lives of almost 250 people and displaced upwards of 700,000. In the aftermath, devastated states attempted to piece together their communities—“flood water far as my eyes could see,” went Bibb’s song, “1927 never leave my memory.”
Outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, the stretch of levees couldn’t stand up to the powerful flooding. Tributaries swelled beyond capacity and the series of levees holding the river in place ultimately succumbed in 145 locations.
In a community devastated by the flooding, African American residents, holding the possessions they managed to save from the rising waters, waited for aid from the Red Cross.
The Great Flood wasn’t the first to strike the area. When the river flooded in 1912, 200 were left dead. After the surge subsided, residents often returned to find their homes submerged in water.
Three years after the flood, recovery efforts continued. U.S. President Calvin Coolidge assembled a special committee, which together with the American Red Cross strategized how to best provide relief to flood victims.