Lost in the flood: A community’s resilience rises above disaster

Publication Date

Over two days in early May 2010, nearly 14 inches of rain fell across Nashville and parts of middle Tennessee. The deluge forced the Cumberland River and others over their banks, resulting in massive flooding. When the waters receded, 26 people had died, there was $2.4 billion in property damage, and few neighborhoods remained intact.

Back home in Schenectady, Deidre Hill Butler watched news accounts of the devastating floods. An associate professor of sociology and director of the Africana Studies program, Butler had started her undergraduate studies at Fisk University in Nashville. She still had friends in the area.

“I immediately contacted them to see how they were doing and how I could help,” Butler said.

A research project eventually emerged from the disaster. Butler returned to Nashville, where she interviewed residents, attended community meetings and rallies, and documented the rebuilding efforts.

She focused on Bordeaux Hills, a predominantly black working-class neighborhood along the Cumberland River. The rising waters had ripped homes from their foundations, displacing hundreds of residents devastated by the floods.

Many families and businesses decided to rebuild. And despite the damage, an influx of new residents chose to make Bordeaux their home.

An expert on topics related to the sociology of African-American culture, Butler was inspired by what she learned from those affected by the catastrophe.

“I witnessed a story of revitalization,” Butler said. “It wasn’t happening on the scale of Katrina, but the flood of 2010 really reshaped Nashville,” she said.

The result of Butler’s research is “Revitalized Community: Bordeaux Since the 2010 Flood,” a photo exhibit in the Beuth Atrium of Schaffer Library Sept. 19 through Nov. 21. A reception featuring remarks by Butler is Tuesday, Sept. 20, from 4 to 5 p.m. It is free and open to the public.

The exhibit is a collection of photos members of the community shared with Butler. They depict the damage caused by the flood, along with recovery efforts.

“I wanted to share my Nashville community with my Union community and show that in the era of the movement for black lives, there are many spaces of black community resilience that should be shared,” said Butler, who joined Union in 2001.

The exhibit in Beuth is a scaled-down version of one Butler curated at the renovated Bordeaux Public Library last year. At a reception, residents came out and shared stories of the flood and its aftermath. Her interviews are archived with the digital flood project at the Nashville Public Library.

In February, Butler will present her research at the Nashville Conference on African-American History and Culture at Tennessee State University.

Butler’s project is supported by a faculty research grant, the Sociology Department and the Africana Studies Program.

“My work documents ongoing collective action as spaces of healing and restoration,” Butler said. “I also hope to bring to light new histories that challenge mainstream representations of the black community