Abstract: This article investigates media coverage of 19th and early 20th century river activism and its effect on federal policy to control the Mississippi River. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ “levees-only” policy—which joined disparate navigation and flood control interests—is largely blamed for the Great Flood of 1927, called the largest peacetime disaster in American history. River activists organized annual conventions, and later, professional lobbies organized media campaigns up and down the Mississippi River to sway public opinion and pressure Congress to fund flood control and river navigation projects. Annual river conventions drew thousands of delegates such as plantation owners, shippers, bankers, chambers of commerce, governors, congressmen, mayors and cabinet members with interests on the Mississippi River. Public pressure on Congress successfully captured millions of federal dollars to protect property, drain swamps for development, subsidize local levee districts and influence river policy.
Keywords: activism; commerce; democracy; floods; levees; media; media history; Mississippi River; river conventions