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The Great Flood of 1927 Through a Post-Katrina Lens

By: 
Prita Lal
Date Published: 
January 01, 2007
    “I can’t see a leader leading me nowhere if he’s in New York and I’m down here catching hell.”
    —Fannie Lou Hamer

New Orleans, 1927News of the disaster dominates the headlines of major papers for months all over the country. The front-page of the New York Times states "150,000 More Homes Threatened as Levees Guarding Vast Area Totter: Desperate Fight is Made to Hold Them." Some time later, another Times front-pager describes the Army Corps of Engineers improved levee plan as the “greatest engineering project ever undertaken in the western world.” An appeal from the Red Cross, which has been delegated the responsibility of disaster relief by the federal government, states, "there has been no disaster of the kind that call[s] more urgently for aid in the form of money contributions. No limit can be set at this time to the relief fund." As the levees continue to break, page one of the Washington Post describes a special meeting organized by the Red Cross to help the tens of thousands of "refugees" displaced from their homes. Weeks later, another Post article mentions the "desolation" that greets victims on their return to the flooded region.

This "Battle to Save the Levees" as thousands flee from their homes is a persistent reminder of what many have dubbed one the worst disasters in human history. However, these headlines were not gathered in the last couple years as a result of Hurricane Katrina, but were published almost 80 years ago.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the Great Mississippi Flood that occurred in 1927 was considered to be the worst “natural” disaster in this country’s history. Although Katrina’s wake has revealed to the world brutal racial, economic, and social inequalities, these injustices have been operating long before this hurricane of 2005. There is much to learn from the uncanny similarities as well as the differences between the 1927 flood and Katrina, particularly concerning the role of the state, which helps us put the current injustices in perspective. Further, the manners in which oppressed peoples both responded to and resisted unfair policies in 1927 brings to light lessons that can be applied to the contemporary movement for justice. I hope that this article will help illustrate the importance of engaging in a space for reflection and examination, so that as organizers and activists, we are able to better evaluate the effectiveness of our actions in working towards social transformation.

Overview of the Disasters

The Mississippi Flood of 1927 and Hurricane Katrina are deemed to be two of the worst disasters in this country’s history. Historians Pete Daniel and John Barry, who have done immense research on the 1927 flood, summarize the extent of the damage: 16.5 million acres flooded in seven states (the area inundated was about the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont combined); 931,159 people dislocated; direct and indirect economic losses nearing $1 billion; 162,000 homes flooded; and 41,000 buildings destroyed. The official death toll was around 500, however, the actual number of dead persons was much greater and may not ever be known. A Red Cross report published after the disaster said that the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 will be known historically as one of the United States’ greatest “peace time” disasters, and its ramifications for race relations and government policies were great. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the area of the disaster brought by Katrina was 90,000 square feet, about the size of the United Kingdom, 1.5 million people were displaced, and the estimated damage stands around $75 billion. In New Orleans, around 200,000 homes were flooded and the official death toll is about 1300 persons, with more than 6000 additionally missing. Although the scope of Katrina is much larger than that of the 1927 flood, there are still a great deal of uncanny similiarities between the two disasters.

Similarities between the Great Flood and Katrina

Many of the similiarites of the 1927 flood to Katrina deal with the responses of the government and private sector—at both the federal and local levels. Indeed, the Mississippi flood was also thought not to have been a disaster caused completely by mother nature, but to have been politically exacerabated. The atrocities suffered by the oppressed in both disasters were and are due in large part to undemocratic decision-making processes. Even in 1927, the business elite in New Orleans were making decisions that affected the residents and the voices of the residents did not count. The Mississippi flood threatened the business interests of New Orleans because it was believed that a major flood would destroy the city financially; in fact, banks were withdrawing funds from the city and businesses were considering other ports to work with, which caused the elite in New Orleans to present a false picture to the country that the city was never in danger of serious flooding (by controlling the stories that got printed in the New Orleans Times-Picayune about the flood), without any regard for how these lies would endanger the city’s residents. During the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans in 1927, the Citizens Flood Relief Committee was formed and was comprised of elite officals, including corporate attorneys and presidents of local banks. This “Citizens Committee” was charged with issues such as reparations for the refugees and these men became the officials rulers of the city. This committee is similar to the one created by Mayor Ray Nagin after Katrina called the Bring New Orleans Back Committee, which is also made up of many business executives (such as prominent real estate magnate Joseph Canziaro and Entergy New Orleans president and CEO Daniel Packer) emboldened to make decisions regarding the fate of the people without much of a space for community voices. In both disasters, the compensation for flood victims from the federal government and businesses was criticized as being completely inadequate. One decision that was made by the business elite in New Orleans in the 1920s without community input and that caused immense harm was to dynamite the levees.

In 1927, the business elite decided to dynamite the levee protecting St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parishes so that those parishes would get flooded and save New Orleans. It is interesting to note that they did not want to dynamite the area north of New Orleans because that area is more developed and would have cost more to rebuild and to compensate the victims. Moreover, city officials decided to dynamite the east bank rather than the west bank of the city because the west was more important to the business interests. Although it has not been officially indicated that levees were dynamited in New Orleans to save the city from further flooding during Katrina, witnesses near the levees protecting the eastern part of the city have said they believe the levees were dynamited to safeguard the Central Business District of New Orleans, by causing more flooding in the Ninth Ward. Such disregard for the welfare of the masses ignited dissent among the people that had to be controlled by the dominators.

In order to subdue the people, the ruling elite used force in both disasters. In fact, even in 1927, guards were given “shoot to kill orders” and rumors abounded about blacks “looting” and such black “looters” were shot by the National Guard and police officers in order to send a message to others. White people took advantage of the looting rumor by establishing an 8 p.m. curfew in Greenville, MS that was enforced only on blacks. Barry characterized the struggle against the flood as one that became a battle of “man against man” or the elite against the people. The state of Mississippi was especially struggling because of the flood in 1927 and was in grave need of federal support.

During both the Great Flood and Katrina, local officials pleaded voicerously with the federal government for help as people were living in horror on rooftops waiting for rescue. In 1927, a local official, General Green, from Greenville, MS stated “it is the greatest disaster ever to come to this section and we need help from the federal government to prevent the worst kind of suffering;” while the governor of Mississippi blared to the federal governement across the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune,“FOR GOD’S SAKE, SEND US BOATS!” Again, in both disasters, the government did its best to pass its responsibilty on to the private sector.

President Calvin Coolidge appealed to the nation to make donations to the Red Cross, an organization that had a highly developed fundraising aparatus at the time and was assigned a lead role in diaster relief efforts. In fact, the government’s inclination to privatize relief efforts is certainly nothing new, which is evidenced by Coolidge’s refusal to convene a special session of Congress in order to consider an appropriations bill to fund the disaster relief. Businessmen and the National Chamber of Commerce lauded Coolidge’s dismisal of the “all-fathering Federal Government” and held that private capital would be able to invest needed funds in the relief efforts, so as to lessen the social welfare role of the government. In the 1927 flood, refugees were displaced and in need of Red Cross services until well after a year had passed since the flooding began. The privatization of relief efforts was especially criticized in the late 1920s by the media who held that the federal government should commit more resources. Another criticism of the government during both the Great Flood and Katrina has been that they are not conveying to the public an accurate death count and this disregard for number of dead was attributed to the fact that so many of the perished were people of color.

During both disasters, the government and the Red Cross were accused of racism in regards to how blacks were treated. In 1927, for example, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), W. E. B. DuBois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett, and progressive whites in the north were especially critical. Whites were given better shelter and relief aid than black people; for example, white refugees were sheltered in houses and received appropriate aid, whereas blacks were forced to stay in tent camps and engage in slave labor in order to receive rations. In both disasters, clean up was a gigantic task that is and was done predominantly by poor people of color; for instance, in the late 1920s after the flood, loading supplies and cleaning were considered to be “nigger work” and the police consripted blacks for work gangs. Both disasters experienced a rash of hate crimes on the part of white vigilantes who used the opportunity to exercise their racial supremacy. However, it is important to keep in mind that in 1927, the formal segregation of the South under Jim Crow laws was in several ways more direct and brutal than the de facto segregation that exists today. The similarities between the two disasters that stem from the government and private responses are indeed rather uncanny, yet further examination brings to light a number of differences between the two disasters.

Differences between the disasters

The composition of the working-class in both time periods accounts for a significant difference. The capitalist class, comprised of plantation owners and bankers, in the 1920s feared that black labor would be lost and never replaced if blacks left the area. The situation in Greenville, MS after the flood made it impossible to care for the thousands of refugees in the area, because the city had effectively lost its infrastructure as it was cut off from rail connections and the water supply was tainted and useless, while most homes were washed away. The person in charge of disaster relief in Greenville, Will Percy, thought that it would be in the interest of “Negro welfare” to force their evacuations, however, after the protests of the business owners, Percy rescinded his decision. The economic harm that would have been brought with the loss of Greenville’s black labor force outweighed any consideration of refugee safety. The Chicago Defender, which was the largest black newspaper in the country at the time and one of the most influential, printed articles which stated directly that the southern planters were afraid that labor agents from the north would lure blacks away from the region and so urged the National Guard to use force to keep blacks sheltered in slave camps. Furthermore, blacks were needed to help rebuild the plantations after the flood. One reason for which the white ruling elite in the South was concerned about losing the black labor force to the north was because many southern blacks had been voluntarily moving north since the turn of the century. The black population was already in decline in Louisiana and Mississippi during the 1920s because of the Great Migration (that began during World War I and continued until the 1970s in which 6 million blacks migrated from the rural South to the north because of labor shortages caused by the war industry). In fact, it was probably because of this population loss that the Red Cross helped flood survivors return and resettle back to their homes once the floodwaters resided and it was deemed safe. However, during Katrina, the business rulers were not afraid of losing a cheap supply of labor with the evacuation and dispersal of the native black New Orleans population because they were able to smuggle in workers from Latin America. These Latino workers have been toiling in dangerous and hazardous environments without being given appropriate protective gear, adequate housing, or even minimal pay. Although the necessity of the mandatory evacuation of the New Orleans natives can be explained by the greater environmental hazards the city experiences today as compared to 1927, the Latino workers were brought in quite quickly and were (and continue to be) exposed to the dangerous hazards in both their living and working conditions. Indeed, the brutal conditions that the Latino workers are exposed to are rather similar to the ones black workers had to undergo almost eighty years ago.

In 1927, blacks were forced to work on levee camps in order to help curtail and control the flooding. Tents were set up along the levee camps and the workers were forced to stay in them. Moreover, blacks had to work without pay for the Red Cross and on the levees in order to receive food for themselves and their families. The National Guard ordered blacks in the camps to work like slaves under the threat of being shot. The Chicago Defender ran a column by Ida B. Wells-Barnett during the crisis in which she ran stories from refugees who had escaped the slave camps. The following is an excerpt from one of Wells-Barnett’s columns in which she includes a narrative from one of the refugees:

    Meanwhile John Jones (that is not his [real] name), 28 years old, came to my door Friday evening. He was in his shirt sleeves and had a cotton blanket rolled up under his arm. He had just escaped from the government camp in Louisiana. He was born and reared in that state and when the high water came about 300 of them were taken to the camp. All the men were put in one long tent and the women and children in another. He was there 15 days and was not permitted to associate with his wife and children in all that time. They had to lie on the floor with a piece of canvas only under them and no covering. Of course they slept in their clothes and had no change. He said: “The first thing they do is to line you up and give you a ‘shot’ then they give you something to eat and tell you to lie down for a day. The ‘shots’ make you sick and sometimes are fatal. I saw one man drop dead as soon as he had received the injection. He was about 40 years old. Over 25 people died in our camp from these shots.”

    “The next morning the gong rang at 5:30 o’clock and we got a breakfast of salty bacon, one egg, bread and some brownish water they called coffee with no sugar. Then the boss man arrived and told us that we were to go to work on the levee and would be given $1 a day and board. He has a gun and you know its useless to argue or refuse to go, so you say you all and take the shovel and go.

    “At noontime they gave us navy beans, bread, and more of the stuff they called coffee with no sugar. Then back to work until night, when we get potatoes, corn beef, hash and more of that same so-called coffee.

    “It was chilly without any cover so I asked for a blanket, but they wouldn’t give me one. Then I said I would pay for one out of my wages and got it. I have it here. It is all I got for my 15 days’ work. ”

The refugee went on to share his plight of telling his “boss man” that he wanted to stop work and leave the camp, but was told if he tried to leave then he would be shot. He ended up getting shot by the guard in his attempt to leave, and he afterwards hitchhiked from the levee camp to Illinois before sending for his wife who stayed behind in the camp. This refugee story represents the horrendous struggles experienced by tens of thousands of blacks after the 1927 flood that ignited condemnations from people all over the country. In addition to being forced to toil on the levee camps, blacks were also forced to labor as garbage collectors. While white areas of flooded regions were undergoing relatively rapid clean up (done by blacks), the black neighborhoods became the dumping ground for all the trash from the white sections, which rendered these sections as disease breeding and uninhabitable. Thanks to media outlets such as the Chicago Defender and Pittsburgh Courier and the NAACP magazine Crisis, people all over the country condemned both the handling of blacks in the region as well as the government for their racist treatment.

President Hoover, in response to all the charges of racism, appointed a Colored Advisory Commission (CAC) to investigate the accusations, which was chaired by Robert Rosa Moton of the Tuskegee Institute. Moton appointed bourgeois blacks to the CAC (like Associated Negro Press head Claude Barnett and Southern University president J.S. Clark) and he did not choose any representatives from the NAACP, who at the time were more politically radical than any of the CAC members. As a result of the efforts undertaken by Hoover to maintain his image as “the great humanitarian” (such as his strategic use of the media and his appointment of the CAC), he was able to garner a large share of the black vote. Many blacks were pleased with Hoover’s handling of the flood—particularly bourgeois blacks, because of initial futile promises he made, such as promising to appoint blacks to positions in his administration and resettling the land in the Delta region in a manner favorable to blacks.

The differences between Katrina and the Great Flood reveal many poignant themes that are important to keep in mind in the current reconstruction efforts. The refugees were less dispersed in 1927, which has to do with the lack of expendable cheap immigrant labor available in that time period. Also, blacks were heading north already with the Great Migration, so there was a negative population growth in the region—as well as fewer options for cheaper labor. For all these reasons, blacks were needed in the region to maintain the labor force. Prison labor was also used in the 1927 flood to fix the levees, whereas in 2005, many prisoners were left to languish in their cells when the floodwaters arrived. In 1927, the ruling elite used force and weapons to keep the blacks in dangerous conditions in the region and not migrate, while today, physical force was not needed to keep black people from evacuating; before Katrina hit, black and other poor people were forced to be exposed to the dangerous conditions in the area because many residents could not afford to leave or had no transportation. Indeed, in 2005, officials (such as former FEMA chief Michael Brown) made it seem as though the poor people voluntarily stood behind by saying they “chose not to heed the warnings to evacuate.” The living conditions were also different in 1927 so it was easier for people to rebuild and refugees had the ability to be more self-reliant. For instance, houses were simpler to rebuild (minimally made out of wood, etc) and people were more rural—i.e. more tied to the land. Furthermore, the Red Cross official report detailed the kind of relief given to affected families in 1927 and a common form of aid was food for livestock and seeds for kitchen gardening. It was common for people to sustain themselves by living off their own gardens, which is much less the case today in that people are forced to depend more on complex infrastructure for survival. Greater environmental hazards at present also forced evacuation of residents in New Orleans, because of the toxic nature of the floodwaters that saturated the soil (although this did not businesses from exposing Latin American workers to the hazards). Moreover, there are more economic incentives to keep blacks out today, so developers can take their property and sell it. For instance, the lower Ninth Ward, which was an area hit hard by flooding and was predominantly African-American, had a large number of homeowners, which was higher than the number of blacks owning land in 1927. ColorLines published an article in which David Bacon argues that the business owners in New Orleans prefer immigrant workers to the native black working-class because the immigrants are less costly to retain by saying “ employers want workers, but workers without families, who need no schools or community services. They want workers who could be housed in homeless shelters or packed into trailers like sardines [which is the case with the immigrant workers].” Thus, this is more reason to keep black people out of New Orleans today and replace them with a newer group of docile workers. As we can see, each of these differences between the two disasters has systemic causes.

The underlying reason why these differences exist between 1927 and today deal with the fact that capitalism is more advanced and enveloping in our lives (i.e. neoliberal globalization). During the 1920s, the U.S. was not yet the world super power and much of the 3rd world was still under the domination of the colonial empires like Britain and France. This pre-World War II era was also prior to the creation of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (commonly known as the World Bank), International Monetary Fund, and the United Nations—all principal institutions carrying out the current neoliberal order. In the new world order, capital has greater mobility to cross global boundaries with ease and privatization is more common—such as the government contracting out formerly public services to private companies that are less liable to regulations protecting worker rights and the environment. Capital’s need to extract greater and greater resources from the earth at a quicker pace also helps explain the larger environmental hazards that exist today in the region. Immigration policies have also expanded since the 1920s in this country to help fulfill a need for a docile and cheap labor force. Yet, economic policies related to neoliberal globalization play a causal role in inducing third world people to come to the U.S. for their livelihood, even if it means migrating or staying here “unlawfully” at great risk. In fact, economic forces have been at play since the creation of the levee system in the Mississippi delta region. Indeed, exploitative capitalist interests have been central to the problems of developing an appropriate levee system in the delta region.

Background of the levees

Daniel discusses at depth the developmental history of the delta region and the levees. The Mississippi, like all other great rivers, has its own natural cycle of flooding (which brought benefits to the soil because of mineral deposits) and early modern peoples have generally tended to adapt their settlement patterns according to the flood and recession of the river waters. It was actually when the white colonizers moved into the region and discovered the fertile soil of the Mississippi valley that they began efforts to control the natural flood cycles of the river. For instance, during the 1700s the white men erected dikes to protect farmland from the flood waters by channeling these waters through the dikes and into swamp land, thus allowing the farms to remain dry and able to grow crops year round without interuption, which is more conducive to capitalist accumulation.

As settlers came into the region, they began to work together to construct higher and higher levees to protect their land from the flood waters. However, the higher that the levees are constructed, the greater pressure this puts on the river waters, thus in times of flood crisis, the higher and stronger levees actually caused the force of the river to strengthen and increase the threat of a dangerous flood. The construction of levees was a lucrative endeavor as white developers and engineers were competing and lobbying for profitable government contracts since the 1860s (while the laborers who actually built the levees were paid nothing). However, higher and stronger levees that were supposed to prevent flooding also eroded wetlands because they thwart the natural dispersal of sediment to the marshland, which then causes more severe hurricanes and flooding (because there is less land to buffer and weaken the incoming hurricane from the Gulf of Mexico to inhabited areas). In sum, the Mississippi River is meant to flood naturally, but because of corporate interests to control its flood waters in order to maintain crop production and accumulation, we have an extensive system of levees and dikes that in the end increases the pressure on the river, erodes coastland, and can cause even more disasterous flooding. Although corporate interests operate against the welfare of people, oppressed persons have consistently organized to resist such injustice.

Responses and Resistance

The black newspaper Chicago Defender had a special correspondent in the flood region and Ida B. Wells-Barnett also wrote special columns during the disaster. In one of her columns, Wells-Barnett posed the following question: “Why can’t the Race, who are 90% of the actual flood sufferers, share in that $14,000,000 relief fund which the country sent freely to the flood district?” After she shared the first-hand accounts from refugees who escaped the slave camps, Wells-Barnett made a call to action; she urged the black community to ask similar questions, demand answers, share this information with the whole country, and then act for change. She tells all black people to “pass resolutions asking for investigations of these camps and recommending better protection for our Race in their clubs, churches, lodges, and fraternal societies and send them to President Coolidge, Secretary Hoover, the National Red Cross…” She urged people to keep crying aloud until something is done and added that “it will require the combined influence of all our people in the North, East, and West, where our votes count, to put a stop to the slavery that is going on right now in the government camps in Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.” Wells-Barnett and other writers were critical of the black bourgeoisie who they felt had traded out the poorer persons of their race by hiding the true brutish conditions of the refugees in the camps. For instance, Wells-Barnett and DuBois lambasted the Colored Committee Report spearheaded by Moton as not depicting the actual reality of the slave camps and, in response, the NAACP sent their own investigator to the area.

The NAACP played an active role in relief and advocacy during the Great Flood. As the Delta area began experiencing immense flooding, African Americans all over the country began writing letters to the national offices of the Urban League and the NAACP, as well as to black newspapers, demanding that they investigate the allegations of peonage and forced labor. Initially, Walter White, the assistant secretary of the NAACP, was hesitant to act on false rumors, but as he realized the accuracy of the reports from the region, he paid a visit to the area and disseminated his findings in publications such as the New York Times and The Nation. White accused the wealthy landlords in the Delta of using the disaster as a pretext to hold black people in peonage. The NAACP also helped collect funds for aid that would go directly towards the black refugees. Many African Americans suspected donating money to the Red Cross, because they feared that the funds would not go to help the black flood victims. In response to these suspicions, the New Orleans branch of the NAACP consented to receive flood relief funds for the black victims and said “the New Orleans branch will handle anything for the flood sufferers.” In addition to efforts by the NAACP, the black media made attempts to ensure that black refugees were getting appropriate assistance.

The Associated Negro Press also demanded that Coolidge appoint a ‘colored’ officer to work with whites in administering relief so that the relief would correctly go to the refugees who are 90% black. Further, the black newspaper Pittsburgh Courier was also deputized by the Red Cross to collect funds for flood refugees. This newspaper also reported on the Special Conference on Flood Relief in which social worker executives offered to train “Negro social workers through the National Urban League…for organizing Negro flood sufferers for relief and family rehabilitation.” Although the government did respond to such demands by appointing black people to lead relief efforts, such as Moton’s committee, these blacks, who were typically bourgeois, were also criticized by more radical activists such as Wells-Barnett and DuBois for taking bribes by white businessmen and landlords in exchange for convincing poor blacks to be subordinate and stay in the Delta region.

The refugees forced to work in the levee slave camps engaged in forms of resistance against their oppressors. Rebellions would often occur whenever a guard or overseer inflicted some form of violence against a refugee. For instance, the Chicago Defender reported that a near riot occurred in Mississippi when the police arrested and jailed a woman named Mrs. Nancy Clark Peters when she objected to her husband’s forced conscription to work on the levee. Another near race riot occurred when an overseer beat a 19-year-old refugee with a gun because he asked for a rest break. This incident caused the levee night workers to quit ‘cold’ in addition to the near race insurrection. A substantial uprising almost occurred because of the death of James Gordon, a levee worker in Greenville, MS who was shot by a white police officer for refusing to return to work during his shift off. Gordon’s death sparked intense anger among the black community that unloading of supplies, cleaning of white businesses, and other labor performed by blacks came to a halt, while both blacks and whites armed themselves. Even the African-Americans on the levee kept shovels, hoes, and knives within reach. Will Percy was able to superficially fan the flames of anger in the black community, although the rage continued to linger within. These instances exhibit the solidarity of the black workers such that when one of them was abused, the entire group would rise up in protest. The actions that sparked the riots typically involved a black person standing up to the authority of the police or army either by not agreeing to follow orders or contesting their use of force. The riots are a form of protest perhaps less theatrical than the ones of today (such as rallies and demonstrations). In considering riots as a form of resistance, it is important to consider this question: to what end did the black people rebel and what was the impact of their rebellion? I would like to argue that this form of rebellion on the part of levee workers was a collective form of resistance because blacks were defying the forced labor conditions that the state imposed on them through using intimidation; so this resistance represents a challenge to the state-sponsored coercion. The nature of protest involving riots is characteristic of the collective nature of living and work conditions that black people experienced at that time.

Conclusion

By examining the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 through the lens of post-Katrina U.S.A., we see that there were indeed a number of uncanny similarities between the two disasters. I have attempted to prove that the differences that have occurred between the 1927 flood and Katrina stem from the advanced nature of capitalism, and that understanding the historical economic development in the region can better inform our social justice work. For instance, people in the 1920s were more autonomous in their daily living, in that many of the flood refugees grew their own fruits and vegetables and could easily rebuild their simple houses. On the other hand, today’s refugees, like the vast majority of American people, rely on corporations to provide services such as water, sanitation, food, telephones, electricity, etc. The changed nature of the economy that has shifted from being agriculturally based to centered around tourism, urban planning, and real estate (as well as the rise of neoliberalism and migration from Latin America) helps us understand the expropriation (rather than retention) of cheap black labor today. Moreover, the larger forces of capitalism present in our current society help us understand the differences in state policy today as opposed to the 1920s. Indeed, capital plays a dominant role in the way policy develops around disaster relief and reconstruction, which is important to examine as oppressed people act to mobilize our own resources. I hope this article proves that examining history is crucial in building movements for social justice so that we are able to truly transform systems of oppression so that they will not be replicated.