For this week’s Throwback Thursday, we return to the question, what can studies of environment tell us about African American experiences? In his recent book, Backwater Blues: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), Richard Mizelle argues that blues music, Richard Wright’s stories, NAACP documents, and black newspapers open a window onto a more thorough understanding of the Mississippi River flood of 1927—the most destructive flood in U.S. history—revealing the nature of race relations and definitions of citizenship at the time. Panelists discuss the challenges and possibilities of working at the intersection of race and the environment from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.
Saje Mathieu, History; David Pellow, Sociology; Elliott Powell, American Studies; Richard Mizelle, History, University of Houston
Learn more about the book, Backwater Blues: The Mississippi Flood of 1927 in the African American Imagination from the publisher, the University of Minnesota Press.
In Backwater Blues, Mizelle analyzes the disaster through the lenses of race and charity, blues music, and mobility and labor. The book’s title comes from Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues,” perhaps the best-known song about the flood. Listen to poet Marilyn Chin read Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues” (via the Library of Congress).
Event image description: African American refugees stand in line at Birdsong Camp, April 29, 1927 in Cleveland, Mississippi. Image credit: Mississippi Department of Archives and History.
Recordings of related past IAS programs can be found in our Multimedia Library. If you liked this event, we recommend starting with those related to the environment and climate change, and settler colonial legacies and land acknowledgments.