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Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of the 1928

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Introduction

         The Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of the 1928 is also referred to as the Hurricane San Felipe Segundo. The hurricane still remains one of the most devastating hurricanes to have been witnessed in the world. Some of the areas that were affected by the hurricane include, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Lee Ward Islands, and Florida (America).Of all the four hurricanes that occurred during the Atlantic Hurricane Season, the Lake Okeechobee was the most devastating having reached Category 5 based on Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale.

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A very large number of people were killed, with the majority being the residents of Florida. The surge of the storm was very strong that it breached the dike that had been constructed around Lake Okeechobee, which led to the floods that covered hundreds of square miles.

The floods swept a lot of people to their deaths. An estimated 2,500 people lost their lives, while property and infrastructure costing millions of dollars was completely destroyed or damaged. The majority of the deaths that occurred during the hurricane were those of the African Americans[1].

In this paper, the conditions of the black migrant workers before and after the hurricane will be discussed. The historical problem, the nature of the problem, and solutions to the problem will be looked at.

Discussion

  Conditions of Black migrant workers before the Hurricane

           The historical events that have occurred in one way or another triggers our thoughts about the causes and the solutions to the problems that arise from the events. Three quarters of the people who died in the storm have been recorded to have been the black migrant workers who worked in the agricultural farms near Lake Okeechobee. The black migrants had moved to Florida in search for employment, in agricultural fields located at Everglades. Their living conditions were very poor, shown by the condition of their houses. The blacks lived in shanties, which were usually built using scrap wood or the tarpaper. Apart from the poor house conditions, the black migrants were located in an area that was easily swept by the floods. The agricultural production in Florida before the hurricane was very high, which can be attributed to the fertile land in the Everglades. The prospering of the agricultural fields attracted many black workers into the area, in order to provide labor in the fields. At the shore, an area referred to as the Palm Beach was resided by those who were wealthy, with the majority being the whites. The whites had well built and expensive homes. As one entered inland along the lake, the African American impoverished towns would be found here. Some examples of the impoverished towns included the Belle Glande and the Pahokee. The blacks were earning very little from their work in the farms, which included picking of the farm agricultural crops. The difference in the financial ability of the blacks and the whites resulted to a great racial division between the people of the two races. The events that followed after the hurricane was a clear indication of the racial segregation that existed amongst the Florida residents. [2]

      Conditions of Black migrant workers after the Hurricane

        The Lake Okeechobee hurricane resulted to a storm that breached the 35-foot high dike that had been constructed around the lake to facilitate farming. Neither the black nor the white neighborhoods were spared by the storm, with the floods sweeping over 2,000 farm workers about 45 miles inland, leading to their deaths. The waters from the lake rose greatly to swallow the agricultural farms that had earlier been created by draining the land. It is the nature of the housing facilities in the black neighborhood that made it very easy for the floods to sweep people inland. Like earlier stated, the black migrant workers’ houses were built of scrap wood and tarpaper and hence were easily destroyed by the floods. A very small number of   African Americans managed to survive the storm.Unfortunately; those who survived the storm were given the responsibility of recovering the bodies of the flood victims. The black survivors were forced to retrieve the bodies, including those that were decomposing. There was a very high number of bodies that were retrieved from the flood waters, which led to the scarcity of caskets to bury the dead. This resulted to racial discrimination once again. Due to the scarcity of the caskets, the caskets were reserved only for the whites while the blacks’ bodies were buried in a mass grave without the caskets. The flooding destroyed the agricultural fields, which meant that the surviving black migrants lacked employment. The survivors became refugees, who had to be given aid when it came to food, shelter, and clothing. To many survivors, the impact of the hurricane on their lives was too much to bear since it led to great emotional and psychological suffering. For instance, some survivors have been recorded to have become insane.

The Historical Problem

       Though the Lake Okeechobee hurricane was a historical problem in the Florida area, a much greater problem was   portrayed by the event. The storm was very powerful since it traveled at a speed of 155mph.This  devastating natural disaster that struck Florida brought out one major problem; the existing racial segregation in the American society. The events before and after the hurricane provided a clear picture of the racial segregation that existed amongst the residents of the area. The racial division before the storm can be attributed to the difference in the financial ability of the whites and the blacks. The whites were in charge of the agricultural fields that were very productive [3]

, which made them benefit greatly from the financial returns they generated from the sale of the agricultural products. The World War I had increased the demand of some agricultural products, a situation that acted as a catalyst to increased agricultural production in order to meet the high demand. It is due to this reason that the black migrant workers had moved to Florida in large numbers to seek employment in the agricultural fields that were seen as the main source of revenue in Florida. The amount of income that the black workers earned from the farms were very little, which made them to live under very poor conditions. This left the African Americans with no other option but to live in shanties. The fact that they had very poor housing facilities made it very easy for the flood waters to destroy the houses, and sweep them to their deaths. On the other hand, the white people had better and stronger homes which were not as easily swept by the water as those of the blacks.Therefore, a very small number of the whites died as compared to that of the blacks[4].

                  After the devastating storm, there was need to put into place recovery measures. The recovery efforts were aimed at retrieving the bodies of the storm victims. These recovery efforts were tainted by a high level of racism against the blacks since it was the black survivors were given the responsibility of removing the dead bodies from the flood waters. To make it worse, there were claims that some black survivors were forced to remove the dead decomposing bodies from the flood waters at gun point. Putting into consideration that there were a high number of dead bodies in the floods while there was a small number of black survivors; the black survivors did a lot of work to remove the bodies.

                 Racism was also very prominent when it came to the burying of the dead bodies. The high death toll led to the scarcity of the caskets to bury the dead. This problem was resolved by reserving the caskets for the whites, while the blacks were buried without the caskets.  The discrimination of the African Americans before and after the hurricane has angered the African American community in the West Palm Beach for many years, seen during the white and black storm victims’ memorials. While a proper marker was given to the whites buried in a mass grave, the black victims’ mass grave was never marked. The marking of the mass grave was even forgotten, which made the area to be used as a sewage plant and for street extension much later. Such injustices have continued to attract criticism from the African American community many years after the tragic event, making the issue of racial discrimination to be seen as a great problem in mixed race societies.

The Event under Investigation

                   The issue being investigated is the racial segregation in the American society in 1920s, based on the events of the Lake Okeechobee hurricane. The question of how and why so many African Americans were killed by the storm has always been raised up when discussion about the storm comes up. The answers to this question are very vital in providing us with a clear understanding on the factors that promoted racial discrimination in Florida. The exploitation of the black migrant workers gives us an insight on the how race was used to the disadvantage of the blacks. The relation between the white and blacks   in America was and to some extent is still influenced by an individual’s race.

   The Importance and Nature of the Problem

               Racism has played a very important role in the political and economic development of the American society.Many decisions that have been made based on the race have shaped the history of the American people. Though the Lake Okeechobee was a natural disaster, there is no doubt that it shed light on the racial division that existed in the American society in the 1920s, and how it affected the decisions of the American leaders. The racism issue as seen before and after the hurricane is very vital in explaining why there was a difference in the financial ability of the blacks and the whites. This created two different communities with one being extremely wealthy, while the other living in very poor conditions [5].What happened in Florida can be referred to as the past segregation cruelties. Forcing the black survivors to handle the dead bodies and to clear the canals and the debris-strewn roads have been considered as acts of cruelty.

  The Contribution of other Scholars and the Solution to the Problem

           Some scholars have referred to the Lake Okeechobee hurricane as the “Storm of Racism” because of the high number of the black migrant workers that the storm killed, as compared to that of the whites. About three quarters of the storm victims were African Americans. The hurricane is also seen as a natural disaster which led to the exploitation of the black people, widening the racial division that had earlier existed in the American society before the storm. Though the storm still remains a historical disaster up to date, its impact on the black migrant communities has continued to be felt even as the present African American communities demand for recognition. For instance, many African Americans have continued to demand for recognition of the black victims who died in the storm, just like the white victims.

            The black migrant workers were very significant to the agricultural/economic prosperity of Florida. Due to its prosperity, Florida was considered as an area that was flooded with money[6]. A large number of people during the 1920s were moving to Florida in search of a better life, and the desire to increase agricultural production led to the draining of the Everglades fertile land. This move was criticized by the environmentalists.However; this did not stop the draining of the lands. The World War contributed to the death of many workers in Florida during the storm. The demand for canned vegetables to provide food to those involved in the World War I had encouraged the settlement of a very high number of people in the Everglades area. The media has been criticized for failing to convey the correct information about the storm, an issue that has been viewed as having contributed to poor recovery efforts. The poor communication has been blamed for a high death toll after the storm, when the media withheld information about the true situation on the ground by the media[7].

                   Racial discrimination has been a huge problem in many societies, the American society included. The exploitation of a certain group of people based on the race has benefited some, while some have received very cruel treatment. In order to solve this problem, there is need to recognize that racial discrimination exists and it’s a problem that need to be addressed.  Encouraging people of different races to live in harmony and appreciate their differences discourages negative racism.

Conclusion

          For many years, natural disasters have occurred, with some being very devastating to the victims. These events present us with opportunities to learn from them. The lessons that we learn as human beings should help us to become better people by correcting the past errors. The Lake Okeechobee hurricane is an example of an event that was a learning experience for the American society.

References

Barnes, J. (1998).Florida’s Hurricane History.The University of North Carolina Press

Doup, L.Okeechobee Sun-Sentinel .September 11, 1988.South Florida Sun-Sentinel

www.sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/search/sfl-1928-hurricane,0,3210460.story

              Accessed on September 28, 2008

Miami Daily News, Monday, September 24, 1928, Miami Public Library.

Miami Daily News, Tuesday, September 25, 1928, Miami Public Library.

Miami Herald, Monday, October 1, 1928, University of Miami, Fla. Otto G. Richter Library.

The Storm of 1928: Hurricane Hits City Sunday. The Archives of the Fort Lauderdale Daily

          News. September 17, 1928

Sharp, D. (2003).Storm’s Path Remains Scarred after 75 Years.USA TODAY 9/4/2003.

             www.usatoday.com/weather/hurricane/2003-09-o4-hurricane-usat_htm

              Accessed on September 28, 2008

[1] Doup, L.Okeechobee Sun-Sentinel .September 11, 1988.South Florida Sun-Sentinel

www.sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/search/sfl-1928-hurricane,0,3210460.story
[2] Miami Daily News, Monday, September 24, 1928, Miami Public Library.
[3] Sharp, D. (2003).Storm’s Path Remains Scarred after 75 Years.USA TODAY 9/4/2003.

             www.usatoday.com/weather/hurricane/2003-09-o4-hurricane-usat_htm

              Accessed on September 28, 2008
[4] Miami Daily News, Tuesday, September 25, 1928, Miami Public Library.

[5] The Storm of 1928: Hurricane Hits City Sunday. The Archives of the Fort Lauderdale Daily

          News. September 17, 1928
[6] Miami Herald, Monday, October 1, 1928, University of Miami, Fla. Otto G. Richter Library
[7] Barnes, J. (1998).Florida’s Hurricane History. The University of North Carolina Press

 

Cite this Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of the 1928

Lake Okeechobee Hurricane of the 1928. (2016, Oct 13). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/lake-okeechobee-hurricane-of-the-1928/

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