Tuesday, October 08, 2013

[Book Review] When the Levee Breaks by Patrick O'Daniel


Marilyn reviews WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS: MEMPHIS AND THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY FLOOD OF 1927 by Patrick O'Daniel (History Press, 2013)
"The line of refugees stretched for miles along the road to Memphis” is the opening line of When the Levee Breaks: Memphis and the Mississippi Valley Flood of 1927 by Patrick O'Daniel. The year is 1927 and most of the Mississippi bottoms and delta farmland around Memphis is flooded. Arkansans in the line have just seen their farms and towns submerged rapidly underwater. Some, to their horror, have seen family members drown. Surviving refugees on the road to Memphis are some of the fortunate ones. Others, along with snakes, wild animals of the delta, and farm animals, are on levees of the Mississippi River exposed to the elements without food or water. Some refugees had warning before a wall of water covered the land. Towns, farms, and woodlands are completely destroyed as the crest of the mighty Mississippi flood marches down the Mississippi Valley breaking levees. Even after the main crest had passed, water remained on the land and the refugees could not go home.
Why were the fortunate ones headed to Memphis? Memphis was on high ground. And, in April of 1927 Memphis, under the leadership of Rowlett Paine, was organizing as a place of refuge, the supply source for those trapped on the levee, and base for a national relief effort for the whole Mississippi River Valley. Memphians, as they had during the 1913 flood, rallied to the relief cause with their time, food, and their fundraisers. Some were involved in the rescues of people trapped on rooftops along with delivering food and supplies. Even with all Memphis' relief efforts, the flood was a monster whose size called for a national program. From Memphis J. Edgar Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, directed a national relief effort using the American Red Cross, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the Mississippi River Valley Commission.
In When the Levee Breaks one of the greatest challenges to the city was met by Mayor Rowlett Paine. In the book I discovered a man determined to protect a town, give relief to refugees, and preserve the image of the Memphis. He did this in his second term. Below is a picture of him at his second inauguration.
Rowlett Paine Inauguration

Recently, the library’s Memphis and Shelby County Room acquired Mayor Rowlett Paine's papers. In 2012, his papers were processed for the Memphis and Shelby County Room.

Below is a link to the collection.

Marilyn Umfress, Central Library

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