Daily Archives: 22 April 2014

April 22, 1927 (a Friday): The Political Flood

Flood refugees on the levee in Greenville, Miss. in 1927. (Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History, accession no.: PI/CI/G74.4, no. 46).

Flood refugees on the levee in Greenville, Miss. in 1927. (Courtesy Mississippi Department of Archives and History, accession no.: PI/CI/G74.4, no. 46).

And the rains came. They came in amounts never seen by any white man, before or since. They fell throughout the entire Mississippi River Valley, from the Appalachians to the Rockies. They caused widespread flooding that made 1927 the worst year ever in the valley. The Great Flood of 1927 at one point covered 26,000 square miles in water ten feet deep. More water, more damage, more fear, more panic, more misery, more death by drowning than any American had seen before, or would again.

On this date, President Calvin Coolidge issued a proclamation to the nation. He declared, “The Government is giving such aid as lies within its powers …. But the burden of caring for the homeless rests upon the agency designated by Government charter to provide relief in disaster — the American National Red Cross.” He made no mention of emergency appropriations. Rather, Coolidge, as President of the United States and the Red Cross, asked for the public to donate $5 million [$55.9 million in 2005 dollars] to the Red Cross. Additionally, the President created a quasi governmental commission to assist the Red Cross in the relief effort. Coolidge appointed Herbert Hoover, Secretary of Commerce, as chairman.

The flood propelled Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, who was in charge of flood relief operations, into the national spotlight and set the stage for his election to the Presidency.

The flood had the unlikely effect of contributing to both the election of Herbert Hoover as President, and his defeat four years later. He was much lauded for his masterful handling of the refugee camps, but later concerns over the treatment of blacks in those camps caused him to make promises to the African-American community which he later broke, losing the black vote in his re-election campaign.

Flood refugees near Greenville, Miss. in 1927. (Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District)

Flood refugees near Greenville, Miss. in 1927. (Courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Memphis District)

Several reports on the terrible situation in the refugee camps, including one by the Colored Advisory Commission led by Robert Russa Moton, were kept out of the media at the request of Herbert Hoover, with the promise of further reforms for blacks after the presidential election.

However, once elected President in 1928, Hoover ignored Robert Moton and the promises he had made to his black constituency. In the following election of 1932, Moton withdrew his support for Hoover and switched to the Democratic Party. In an historic shift, African Americans began to abandon the Republicans, the party of Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation, and turned to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Democratic Party instead.

The flood of 1927 changed America. It put Herbert Hoover in the White House, even while his duplicity in dealing with blacks helped begin the shift of black voters from the Republicans to the Democrats. It inspired Congress to pass a law putting responsibility for the Mississippi in Federal hands, making it easier for both Congress and the public to accept an even larger Federal presence during the New Deal years. And the pressures the flood brought to bear on the delicate racial fabric of the Deep South caused ruptures that could never be mended.

April 22, 1989 (a Saturday)

At picture right, it’s Zhou Yongjun on the steps of the Great Hall of the People on April 22, 1989. Zhou is flanking Guo Haifeng, who is holding a scroll with the students’ demands to reform China.

On this date, the state funeral for Hu Yaobang, the reform-minded Chinese Communist leader whom the students were honoring, was held.  A small handful of student leaders, including Zhou Yongjun and Guo Haifeng, appeared on the steps of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, clutching their petition for Chinese reform.  They knelt down on the steps in the classic Chinese tradition of waiting for the emperor to receive their petition.  Chinese government officials refused to receive the delegation.  This moment became an iconic photo of the Tiananmen Square protests.

The Seven Point Peition

The “Seven Point Petition” had been drafted on April 18, 1989.In the early morning, hundreds of students from Peking University had gathered around the Monument to People’s Heroes at Tiananmen Square. They had spent the previous night there guarding the wreaths and flowers dedicated to the newly deceased Hu Yaobang.  Wang Dan, Guo Haifeng, Li Jinjin, and Zhang Boli all had been among the crowd and proposed to write a formal petition to the government. After much discussion, the following became their seven demands for government reform:

  • Reevaluate and praise Hu Yaobang’s contributions
  • Negate the previous anti-“spiritual pollution” and anti-“Bourgeois Liberation” movements
  • Allow unofficial press and freedom of speech
  • Publish government leaders’ income and holdings
  • Abolish the “Beijing Ten-Points” [restricting public assembly and demonstrations]
  • Increase education funding and enhance the compensation for intellectuals
  • Report this movement faithfully

The rebuff of the students would prove to be the first of several grave mistakes by the government that led to the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June, 1989.  On April 23, 1989, Zhou was elected the first President of the Autonomous Students Federation of Beijing Universities.  The students had decided that they needed a central organization to speak for the whole array of Beijing schools that were represented in Tiananmen Square.

Retrospective

Hua Tianyou, professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, sculpted the May 4th Movement of 1919, a relief on the Monument to the Peoples Heroes, in Beijing in June 1953.

On May 4, 1919, thousands of students from 13 Beijing universities had gathered in Tiananmen Square to protest their government’s weak response to the Treaty of Versailles, which included terms that many felt were unfair to China. That movement soon spread to Shanghai and from students to workers, paving the way for the formation of the Communist Party. Party leaders had viewed the May Fourth movement as so critical to the Communist revolution that in 1958, when they unveiled the Monument to the People’s Heroes in the center of Tiananmen Square, the faces of the 1919 protestors were carved into one side.

In 1989, when students once again converged on the square, they chose the monument as their base. “May Fourth was very important to Chinese history,” says Wang Chaohua, a student organizer who appeared on the government list of 21 most-wanted leaders after the Tiananmen crackdown. “Like the students of May Fourth, we wanted to propose something new.” In both 1919 and 1989, says Wang, who recently completed a doctorate in Asian languages and literature at the University of California at Los Angeles, “political authorities did not command the public imagination. The vacuum was filled by intellectual energy.