GUIZERIX: Farewell to Hank Burdine, a formidable friend

Published 4:00 am Wednesday, September 6, 2023

I was saddened to learn of the death of Mississippi Levee Board member Hank Burdine last week. The state of Mississippi, and the Delta, lost a giant of a man.

Mr. Burdine, as I called him, and I got to know each other through The Vicksburg Post’s “Faces of the Floods” series, a multimedia compilation of stories from people who have survived generations of catastrophic floods in the South Delta. I first heard him speak in May 2022 in the auditorium of South Delta High School in Rolling Fork, where he addressed a federal delegation and eloquently explained the truth of the issue.

It was at that point I knew I had to interview Burdine. And I did, a few months later.

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Burdine was a son of the Delta, a scholar and a passionate advocate for wildlife conservation in the Mississippi Delta. He held court with Magnolia State legends like the late Julia Reed and was widely respected as a multi-term member of the Levee Board.

His storytelling prowess was world-renowned, spawning two books and countless speaking engagements.

And in a stroke of sheer luck, I was able to get a front-row seat to the Hank Burdine Show in the form of a two-hour interview in The Post’s conference room.

Burdine was passionate about the plight of people and wildlife in the Delta. He shared his frustrations over misinformation spread about the Yazoo Backwater Floods and the lack of empathy he historically witnessed at the federal level.

Meanwhile, he was a boots-on-the-ground kind of man, riding levees every day in some of the worst flood conditions. He sent (unanswered) invitations to the staunchest opponents of the Yazoo Backwater Pumps, offering to take them through the rising waters in his personal boat.

One of my favorite essays of Reed’s details a leisurely trip she and some companions took on Burdine’s boat near Greenville.

And Burdine must’ve been fond of me, too, or at least admired the work I was trying to do, because, at the end of our interview, he extended an open invitation any time I wanted to traverse the Mississippi River.

As an admitted outsider when it comes to Yazoo Backwater flooding, I was often tempted to sit in a corner and observe, as any shy (read: intimidated) journalist might be wont to do. But that wasn’t happening around Burdine.

He made sure I sat by him at any event we happened to both attend — most recently, we shared in the good news that the pumps project was, hopefully, moving forward once again.

Burdine was laid to rest on Aug. 31 in Greenville. His last ride was a horse-drawn processional.

And true to form, ever-humble about the great man he was, Burdine was laid to rest in a pine box.

Mississippi lost a great man, but it’s my hope that his legacy will live on through the people he influenced.