Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, Randy Newman’s Louisiana 1927 became a familiar anthem for New Orleans and was performed regularly by various artists at various benefits and performances. For a few years, the song couldn’t be performed without producing teary eyes throughout the audience.
While the song talks about flooding, it’s a bit ironic that it became an anthem for the City of New Orleans. You see, in 1927 levees south of New Orleans were actually blown up to divert flood waters AWAY from and out of the “bowl” known as New Orleans where the levees were being pressured from 14 inches of rain inside of New Orleans and the swollen Mississippi River on the outside of the levees.
What resulted was The Great Flood of 1927, an event that was to paralyze the Deep South for nearly six months and leave nearly 1,000,000 people (mostly poor farmers) homeless and penniless just before The Great Depression would deliver a similar blow to other areas of the country.
My father was a year old when “the flood” created tent cities throughout South Louisiana. My grandmothers referred regularly to the flood mostly in terms of before and after. There was a certain disdain for the “city folk” of Baton Rouge and New Orleans who were saved and protected while the poor Cajun farmers were sacrificed. It took decades to recover.
I was nine years old in 1973 when flooding that year caused the new Morganza Spillway to be opened, again flooding millions of acres of “country” land. While the spillways relieve pressure on the levee system and save the cities, they are the equivalent of blowing up the levees in 1927. Today, May 14th, the Morganza Spillway was once again opened to relieve the levee system. Evacuations have started and the wait begins…
After Katrina, then the Oil Spill, and now an epic flood it’s getting harder and harder to keep getting up after the body blows. But, somehow I know that the enduring spirit of the Cajun spirit will prevail….yet again.
For now, all I can do is listen to my favorite rendition of the ode to that great flood over 80 years ago and pray that they actually don’t “wash us away”.