Besides its founding, the most significant date in Greenville’s history has to be April 21, 1927, when the levee broke at Mounds Landing and created the largest flood in the lower Mississippi valley in its known history.

The flood, the response to it, and the resulting fallout set the course for Greenville for the next 95 years, and in many ways we are still feeling the effects.

A new podcast from Wondery tackled the subject of the 1927 flood and its aftermath for Greenville in a series that just wrapped up this week.

The podcast, American History Tellers hosted by Lindsay A. Graham, uses both dramatization and narrative history to tell stories of America’s past. There are currently 45 different series.

I’m a fan of historical podcasts. My favorites are History Hit by Dan Snow, Hardcore History by Dan Carlin, We Have Ways of Making You Talk and The Rest is History.

While most podcasts in the history world seem like one person talking with a subject matter expert who just wrote a book, American History Tellers take a different approach.

For the flood podcast, there was a researcher Ellie Stanton, producer Andy Hermann, host Graham, and some voice actors for the dramatizations. There were also technical staff to create the show.

This retelling of historical events is a deliberate choice of the people of Wondery.

“Dramatic re-enactments on American History Tellers are a hallmark of the Wondery style,” Hermann said. “In many of our shows, we use a combination of narration, dialogue, music and sound effects to tell audio-only stories in a cinematic style. We want listeners to feel at times completely immersed in the events that we relate – not as if they were just hearing a lecture about them.

Each of the podcasts’ sections begins with the word “imagine” and then the host sets the scene.

“Sometimes we are able to elevate the dialogue directly from sources such as court transcripts, contemporary newspaper accounts, or other primary sources,” Hermann said. “In this series, for example, Ellie based much of Will Percy’s dialogue on the writings of his memoir. Other times, since exact verbiage from a distant past can be hard to find, we make up the dialogue. That’s why we begin each re-enactment scene with the word “Imagine” – it’s both an invitation to the listener to imagine the scene in their mind and an acknowledgment that the image is based on dramatization.

When stories are told about “our” history in the Delta, I often cast a yellowish glance at them. I wonder what the cashier will get good, what he will get bad and what he will miss. After all, the whole of history, even recent history, cannot really be known, although you can know a lot.

In his research, Stanton used a variety of sources.

“With ‘Rising Tides,’ I used Pete Daniel’s ‘Deep’n as It Come’ and Susan Scott Parrish’s ‘The Flood Year 1927 A Cultural History,'” Stanton wrote in an email. “We interviewed Parrish as a guest on the podcast. I also searched more recent scholarly articles to find stories of survivor agency and resistance. Black newspaper articles and Will Percy’s memoir “Lanterns on the Levee” were extremely helpful primary sources.

I recently purchased Stanton’s book. Even though I haven’t read it yet, I’m a bit intimidated by its 100 pages of footnotes.

There are several examples of bad deeds by locals leading the relief efforts recounted on the podcast and with good reason, but Stanton said she also found positives.

“During the initial rescue effort, 200 black men, women and children were waiting on the seawall at Scott when a steamer pulled up and lowered the gangplank,” Stanton wrote. “Two armed white men, desperate to retain their sharecroppers, refused to allow anyone on board. A doctor aboard the steamer named SW Douglas came down the gangplank. He said, “I come here on the authority of the American Red Cross and the God of all creation. If any of you have enough courage to fire the weapon you are carrying, please start now or get out of my way, and I don’t think any of you have the courage. Dr. Douglas passed the pair of white men and helped the 200 survivors board the steamer, which evacuated them to safer refuges.

Of the tragedy, perhaps the greatest was the treatment of the black community during and after the flood.

“I felt that one of the greatest tragedies of this flood was that so many white authority figures, from Delta planters to Herbert Hoover, had betrayed the black survivors they had promised to protect.” she writes.

Reading any history of the time, you will find that the officials of the time viewed black labor as a commodity to be preserved and the loss of which was a threat to their way of life, the planters. Many leaders did whatever it took to prevent the black community from being evacuated to safety because there was a good chance they would never return.

Aside from the loss of life and property, the saddest story of the flood is most certainly the treatment of what was then considered only mass labour. This prevailing view was simply a continuation of efforts to keep the workforce in as close a state of slavery as possible after the Civil War.

This state has endeavored to keep the majority of the population subjugated to a life of near, if not abject poverty. The Delta still sees the effects today.

Works like this podcast, “The Most Southern Place on Earth” and “Rising Tides”, attempt to tell a valuable story of our region’s history. Whether the image is pleasant or difficult, there are lessons to be learned from each.

Jon Alverson is proud publisher and editor of the Delta Democrat-Times. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 662-335-1155.


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