Some of the most important lessons are those hardest learned; that was certainly the case for our country concerning disaster aid after the Flood of 1927. The massive flooding of the Mississippi River, the overflowed levees devastating Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana, was the worst disaster of its kind in the U.S. before we saw such disasters as Hurricane Katrina, the recent Hurricane Harvey, etc.
1927 was a very difficult year, a very tough lesson for the U.S. Hundreds of people were killed and over a hundred thousand homes were destroyed along the Mississippi River, flooding spanning over a thousand miles from Illinois to Louisiana. The broken levees were responsible for a great deal of the damage, but it would be the lingering floodwaters that would prove to be one of the flood’s biggest obstacles. Because the ground had already been so over-saturated by record-breaking rainfall that year, the flood waters took a long time to abate, leaving hundreds of thousands of Americans homeless.
The widespread and overwhelming damage and loss forced the United States to acknowledge that disaster relief could not rely only on local aid, but that the government needed to step in. The president at this time, Calvin Coolidge, put one man in charge, Herbert Hoover, afterwards known as the “disaster czar” or the “recovery czar.” At this time, Herbert Hoover was the Secretary of Commerce, meaning that he was the head of the Department of Commerce, which works in the economy, creating jobs, etc. The word “czar” doesn’t have a very good connotation to most of us. We generally tend to think of someone with too much power, and this was definitely the case. After being appointed as the leader of the national disaster relief for the Flood of 1927, Hoover worked with the government and with the American National Red Cross and the military to organize and provide aid to the hundreds of thousands who needed help, but he was given free reign; one person should never have so much power, and Hoover did at times abuse his position. For example, he was aware of the mistreatment of blacks in many of the American Red Cross camps, and he ignored it, taking no action to intervene.
There were no federal overseers on-site at local relief camps, and things were not always run in an acceptable manner. They were not held accountable, even while word got out, and in too many cases, aid workers abused their own power. When you consider who those affected would be, sharecroppers and farmers in the South, a large percentage of this population was African American, and in the 1920s, segregation and racial oppression was everywhere. While these social issues have still yet to be resolved completely, things were much worse at this time. Many were denied food and clothing, etc. because of the color of their skin. If not denied outright, they were made to do degrading and menial tasks in order to receive anything.
This bullying and self-righteous behavior is difficult to explain away. Hate is irrational. I’ve been told that I wasn’t good enough. I imagine that we all have at some point in our lives. But imagine losing everything, and then being told no, you can’t have food or clothes or a place for your family to sleep. Because you’re not good enough.
Inexcusable is the best word I can come up with to sum up such behavior. What a horrible way to make a bad situation worse. I don’t even know what else to say about it, to be honest. And social wrongs were not the only problem in the disaster relief camps; disease and overpopulation exacerbated the situation as well. More on that next time.