In early December the Anacostia Community Museum Urban Waterways project headed to Gulfport, Mississippi to continue fieldwork on communities facing a myriad of issues on the Mississippi and Alabama Gulf Coasts. Long before Hurricane Katrina and the BP Oil spill created environmental havoc on this major urban waterway of the Gulf Coast, communities like Turkey Creek, MS, and Africatown, AL, were being formed by newly freed slaves (Turkey Creek), and by slaves that were brought to this country and released before they were sold (Africatown).
Today the damaging legacy of the Jim Crow south where racial inequality informed urban planning has been compounded by natural and man-made disasters which threatens the communities researcher Katrina Lashley and I visited.
Turkey Creek, Mississippi is the subject of a documentary by Leah Mahan, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek. The film follows local Derrick Evans’ struggle to defend the coastal Mississippi watershed where his ancestors settled as former slaves. Following his journey for ten years, Derrick and his allies confront blatant racism of city officials and short-sighted plans for development that would destroy the ecology and culture of Turkey Creek only to face our nation’s most devastating, natural and manmade disasters: Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster.
By finding community stakeholders, like bird lovers, Turkey Creek was able to tell its story on the national level, by partnering with migratory birds and the Audubon Society, awareness was raised and action taken to protect the watershed.
Today, Turkey Creek is a small community sandwiched between the Gulfport International Airport, and strip malls. Like many successful communities, Turkey Creek negotiated a livelihood for its residences when it established a Creosote Plant to employ its residents. The Creosote Plant is long gone, but we toured one of the buildings associated with the plant that the community is seeking to preserve.
Listening to the stories of what these communities struggle with, and witnessing their coalition building as they gather support among like-minded communities along the Gulf was a powerful lesson before the winter holidays. I was poignantly reminded about how fragile our history is, the depth of human suffering, and the power and necessity of partnership in speaking truth to power. It is through recording and disseminating stories like those of Turkey Creek and the Gulf Coast that the Anacostia Community Museum seeks to share and store history and culture for the betterment of communities in the future.