Reviews:John Barry's Rising Tide
John Barry "Rising Tide" Book Review
John Barry's account of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 includes the roles that members of my family played in the flood's aftermath. He got almost everything exactly right—including his depiction of the homosexuality of my cousin, William Alexander Percy II, who published a classic memoir of Southern life, Lanterns on the Levee (1941), a bestseller still in print today. When the flood inundated Wills home town of Greenville, Mississippi, the mayor appointed him chief of the emergency relief committee.
All went well until Wills father LeRoy objected to Will's plan to evacuate thousands of black sharecroppers marooned on the levee. Fearing that if the sharecroppers left the Delta they would never return, the Senator insisted that they go for a walk together. The only first-hand report we have of their talk is Will's description in Lanterns, which did not, I think, tell the full story, only that LeRoy extracted from him an agreement to consult one last time the members of the emergency committee, and that not long after, the barges waiting to remove the refugees away went downstream empty.
John Barry does not speculate, as I do, that LeRoy threatened Will on account of his homosexuality, but he rightly concludes that the frail, literary gay son could not stand up to his domineering father. Otherwise Rising Tide provides an accurate analysis of their relationship, in the process giving the fullest public account to date of Will's sexual nature. He describes Will's affairs with three of his black chauffeurs--a subject that not even Bertram Wyatt-Brown, author of House of Percy, the most comprehensive and best Percy family biography, discusses. Most of my Southern cousins do not agree with me that Barry's book enhances our family pride.
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Here is a more comprehensive review that I wrote of Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America by John Barry (as pdf)
P.S.John Barry told me that his next book would be on separation of church and state in America but I have not heard from him since.