The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm (2018) by Allison Janae Hamilton

Photograph of Allison Janae Hamilton (by Frankie Alduino; from Hamilton, 2022), an American artist who specializes in sculpture, installation, photography, and film. Much of Hamilton’s art is themed around the United States’ relationship to a changing climate, with a focus on the rural American South.

  • The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm (image below) is an installation artwork by American artist Allison Janae Hamilton (image above). This piece was featured in Indicators: Artists on Climate Change, 2018 exhibit at the Storm King Art Center in New York, U.S. Hamilton’s 18-foot (5.5 m) tall installation is made of silver tambourines stacked in three pillars, held by steel supports.

Allison Janae Hamilton, America, 1984–. The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm, 2018. Painted tambourines and steel armature (from Indicators: Artists on Climate Change, n.d.).

  • Hamilton’s installation pays homage to “Florida Storm,” a 1928 hymn by composer Judge Jackson. This song memorializes the lives lost in the Great Miami Hurricane of 1926 and the 1928 Lake Okeechobee Hurricane. The 1926 Hurricane was a category 4 storm, with winds exceeding 150 miles (240 kilometers) per hour. It destroyed over 4,700 homes in South Florida and displaced 25,000 people, sending the state into an economic crisis. The category-5 Okeechobee hurricane of 1928 was one of the deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, with thousands of casualties.
    • The hurricanes that inspired “Florida Storm” had an exacerbated impact on Black communities in the American South. Many black migrant workers were killed and later buried in unmarked mass graves.
    • You can listen to a recording of “Florida Storm” and view its lyrics here.
  • The tambourines used in the sculpture are an icon of celebration, storytelling, spirituality, and war. Through its symbolism, The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm illustrates the ways that Black communities in the American South have been affected by and persevered through storms in the past and present.

How is this related to climate?

  • Hurricanes are extreme tropical storm systems with strong rotating winds. These storms form in warm ocean waters under conditions of high humidity and low vertical wind shear, which means that winds at different altitudes move in a similar direction at a consistent speed. 
  • While scientists cannot say for sure whether rising temperatures are increasing hurricane frequency, they do agree that hurricanes are getting stronger and more unpredictable as a result of anthropogenic climate change. Storms intensify over warm ocean waters, and global warming is raising the temperature of surface waters. 
    • Under warmer conditions, hurricanes have stronger winds and more rain, and affect higher latitudes. With climate change stalling atmospheric circulation patterns, hurricanes also travel slower. Such slow-moving storms are more dangerous and can cause massive damage to impacted areas. Furthermore, hurricanes are becoming more unpredictable, and able to increase in strength quickly, making evacuations difficult.
  • The peo-ple cried mer-cy in the storm calls attention to the social and racial inequity of climate disasters. Today, disaster aid inequity affects thousands of Americans impacted by extreme weather events. The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a history of giving white homeowners and communities more money for disaster relief than people of color. A 2018 publication revealed that these effects are long-lasting, with white communities gaining wealth after climate disasters and Black communities suffering losses.
    • Low-income neighborhoods and communities of color are also disproportionately affected by climate disasters. For example, Hurricane Katrina, a 2005 category-three hurricane that struck the American southeast, killed over a thousand people from low-income areas in New Orleans, Louisiana. Many of the victims did not have the means to evacuate their homes or distrusted authorities’ warnings due to the city’s history of systemic racism and corruption.

Photograph of damaged and destroyed homes in Louisiana, U.S. after Hurricane Laura in 2020 (from Flavelle, 2021). Communities of color, like the one pictured, tend to receive less disaster relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency than predominantly white communities.

References and additional resources