1927—what a year! Charles Lindbergh flew to Paris, Babe Ruth hit sixty home runs, and the first talking movie was released. Perhaps of even more significance to citizens who lived along the Mississippi River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also had announced its certainty that the levee system along the Mississippi River would prevent future floods. (See excerpt from Deep’n as It Come printed in A Place Called Mississippi, edited by Marion Barnwell, University Press of Mississippi, p 127.) Such news was particularly welcome in areas along the river such as Greenville, Mississippi – areas that were constantly reminded of the awesome power of the state’s namesake—its power to both give life and to take it. The Great Flood of 1927, occurring only a short while after the bold assertion by the Corps, swept across the physical, social, and economic landscape of Mississippi’s Delta, leaving in its wake waves of change that would forever impact the state and the nation. This article and lesson will allow students to examine how one place, Greenville, Mississippi, was affected by the Great Flood of 1927.
Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 3, and 5.
Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.
MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
- Mississippi History Now article
- Outline map of Mississippi and surrounding states; compasses (used in mathematics classes)
- Butcher paper and colored chalk or markers
- Unlined paper; colored pencils
- determine the physical geography of the place (Mississippi) that causes its susceptibility to flooding;
- calculate the extent of the 1927 flood;
- describe the impact of the flood on the city of Greenville and its citizens;
- explore racial and social issues exposed by the catastrophe;
- identify significant people, places, terms, and events associated with the 1927 flood.
OPENING THE LESSON
Divide students into small groups of three or four. One by one, write the following quotations on the board or projector. (These descriptions of the 1927 flood were taken from Deep’n as it Come, pp. 127-130.) Ask students to write on a piece of paper their “guesses” about what is being described as each one is being read. After each clue, allow a minute for students to write additional thoughts on their papers.
- “… it moved at a pace of some fourteen miles a day…”
- “ … a tan colored wall seven feet high…”
- “The fire whistle was blowing repeatedly…”
- “…people were swarming down the streets in throngs.”
- “Many workers were killed when it collapsed…”
- “It sounded not unlike the rising rush of the first gust of wind before an oncoming storm…”
- “There she goes.”
DEVELOPING THE LESSON
- Several activities on the internet will be helpful in setting the stage for the lesson. A Mississippi River States map and quiz at www.enchantedlearning.com/usa/statesbw/mrstates/ms.shtml will enable students to locate the Mississippi River and states along it. An additional activity on www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/teachers/activities/2307_flood.html will assist students in creating a model of a river system with levees. Although based on the 1993 flood in St. Louis, Missouri, the activity will help students to understand how a levee system works, its advantages and disadvantages.
- Ask students to think about why such flooding has been a fact of life in Mississippi’s Delta. Have them closely observe a physical map of the state, noting the elevation and relief. Remind them that Mississippi is a part of the East Gulf Coastal Plain, with elevations generally below 500 feet. Additionally, the state is located near the mouth of the Mississippi River. By the time the river reaches the state, it is full and flush with waters from hundreds of miles of tributaries. Furthermore, Mississippi’s humid sub-tropical climate ensures adequate rainfall for the area.
- Discuss with students what the state would have been like without the Mississippi River. Then, have them talk about the problems associated with such a large water form.
- Distribute a map of Mississippi and its surrounding states to illustrate the extent of the Great Flood. Tell students that the Great Flood of 1927 affected an area of approximately 27,000 square miles. Have them pinpoint their town on the map with a compass and draw a circle with a radius of about 93 miles around it. This will illustrate the enormity of the area flooded in 1927. Ask them to list the things that would be affected by such a flood. (Another way to illustrate the huge area flooded is to have students color in the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont on a U.S. map to represent the 27,000 square miles.)
- To depict the way Greenville and its citizens were affected by the flooding on April 21, students will draw murals of the following scenes: landscape around Greenville covered with water; downtown Greenville with boardwalks; levees with levee guards; levee camps; initial response to the first whistle. Students should be divided into groups and should be given time to research this topic by reading the Mississippi History Now article on the 1927 flood.
- As they research their topic, students should also identify examples of citizens working together and examples of inequity/unfairness that occurred during the catastrophe. These should be incorporated into their murals.
- Use the murals as the basis of a class discussion on how Greenville looked as a result of the flooding and of problems that stemmed from the relief efforts.
Give each student a piece of unlined paper to draw a large river (the Mississippi) with at least four major tributaries named PEOPLE; TERMS; EVENTS; PLACES. Other notes for the lesson will be placed on this graphic as smaller tributaries.
For PEOPLE, students will add William Alexander Percy, John Cannon, William Beanland, and Lucy Somerville. For TERMS, students will identify levee, levee guards, Relief Committee, levee camp, boardwalk. PLACES will add Miller Bend and Mound Landing; EVENTS include the levee break on April 21, 1927, conditions at levee camps, July 4th parade, and passage of the National Flood Control Act of 1928. Students will identify or tell the significance of each of these on their “map.” (They may want to use colored pencils for the different “tributaries.”)
CONCLUDING THE LESSON
- Either individually, or in a group, or as a homework assignment, ask students to play "JEOPARDY!" by writing questions for each of the words, people, or events on their Mississippi River note graphic. If possible, allow time in class for students to select a partner to quiz each other.
- Divide students into groups again. Assign each group a name such as RELIEF COMMITTEE, TOWN COUNCIL, CHAMBER OF COMMERCE, AMERICAN RED CROSS, etc. Each group will write a plan of action to respond to the possibility of a great flood occurring either in their community or, if they wish, in Greenville. Encourage them to consider the problems that Greenville experienced and try to avoid them in their plan.
- Ask students to write a short essay describing some of the things they have learned about the Great Flood of 1927. They should also indicate how their group planned to react to such a catastrophe.
ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING
- Participation in class activities, discussions, group work
- Participation in and completion of mural
- Completion of Mississippi River note graphic
- "JEOPARDY!" assignment
- Creation of management plan
- Writing assignment
EXTENDING THE LESSON
- Many “blues” songs were written about the Great Flood. Students may wish to research such titles as “Broken Levee Blues” by Lonnie Johnson, “Greenville Levee Blues” by Alice Pearson, or “Flood Water Blues” by Casey Bill Weldon. Students could write their own blues songs regarding the flood.
- Using newspaper or web articles, students can compare responses to the Katrina and Rita catastrophes to the Greenville situation in 1927.
- A Place Called Mississippi, Barnwell, Marion, University Press of Mississippi, 1997.
- The Most Southern Place on Earth, Cobb, James C., Oxford University Press, 1992.
- Rising Tide, The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America, Barry, John M., Simon & Schuster, 1997.
- “Fatal Flood,” a PBS American Experience with voices, film clips, maps, etc. Find it at https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/flood-experience/
- Web site:: http://www.42explore2.com/missriv.htm