When They Blew the Levee
Race, Politics, and Community in Pinhook, Missouri

By David Todd Lawrence
and Elaine J. Lawless

224 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 23 b&w illustrations

9781496817730 Printed casebinding $90.00S

9781496818157 Paper $25.00T

Printed casebinding, $90.00

Paper, $25.00

How invisible citizens preserve their community when their town is destroyed

In 2011, the Midwest suffered devastating floods. Due to the flooding, the US Army Corps of Engineers activated the Birds Point-New Madrid Floodway, one of the flood prevention mechanisms of the Mississippi Rivers and Tributaries Project. This levee breach was intended to divert water in order to save the town of Cairo, Illinois, but in the process, it completely destroyed the small African American town of Pinhook, Missouri.

In When They Blew the Levee: Race, Politics, and Community in Pinhook, Missouri, authors David Todd Lawrence and Elaine J. Lawless examine two conflicting narratives about the flood--one promoted by the Corps of Engineers that boasts the success of the levee breach and the flood diversion, and the other gleaned from displaced Pinhook residents, who, in oral narratives, tell a different story of neglect and indifference on the part of government officials. Receiving inadequate warning and no evacuation assistance during the breach, residents lost everything. Still after more than six years, displaced Pinhook residents have yet to receive restitution and funding for relocation and reconstruction of their town. The authors' research traces a long history of discrimination and neglect of the rights of the Pinhook community, beginning with their migration from the Deep South to southeast Missouri, through purchasing and farming the land, and up to the Birds Point levee breach nearly eighty years later. The residents' stories relate what it has been like to be dispersed in other small towns, living with relatives and friends while trying to negotiate the bureaucracy surrounding Federal Emergency Management Agency and State Emergency Management Agency assistance programs.

Ultimately, the stories of displaced citizens of Pinhook reveal a strong African American community, whose bonds were developed over time and through shared traditions, a community persisting despite extremely difficult circumstances.

David Todd Lawrence, St. Paul, Minnesota, is associate professor of English at University of St. Thomas. His work has appeared in Journal of the Midwest Modern Language Association; The Griot: Official Journal of the Southern Conference on African American Studies; and Southern Folklore. Elaine J. Lawless, Columbia, Missouri, is professor emerita at University of Missouri. She is author of six books and coauthor of Troubling Violence: A Performance Project, published by University Press of Mississippi. Together Lawrence and Lawless produced the documentary film Taking Pinhook, available on YouTube or at

224 pages (approx.), 6 x 9 inches, 23 b&w illustrations