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Louisville, Kentucky, January 1937 | Margaret Bourke-White

African-American victims of a flood queue at a relief station.

Roughly a million people were left homeless after the Ohio River flooded in 1937, a period that unhappily coincided with the worst economic depression of the 20th century. The Great Flood was caused by unusually high levels of precipitation; nearly 400 people perished. Bill Okrent, a Northside shopowner, said:

I was delirious, lying on my parents' couch in the living room screaming, "My store is in the water! My store is in the water!''

Taken during the subsequent relief efforts, Bourke-White's image acutely highlights the inconsistencies of the American dream: the backdrop, with its idealised portrait of a prosperous white middle-class family, bears no relation to the reality faced by Louisville's African Americans, struggling to cope after losing everything.

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This image features in the 50 Greatest Political Photographs (part one) special double issue of the NS. You can order your copy here.

The judges were Jason Cowley, Jonathan Dimbleby, Stuart Franklin, Rebecca McClelland and Jon Snow.