Urban Waterways Research Project : Turkey Creek, Mississippi

Turkey Creek, Mississippi, was once an isolated waterway until the city of Gulfport's growth built around the watershed (which abuts the international airport). Today, Turkey Creek is a watershed at risk of development. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

Turkey Creek, Mississippi, was once an isolated waterway until the city of Gulfport’s growth built around the watershed (which abuts the international airport). Today, Turkey Creek is a watershed at risk of development.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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).

December 13, 2015 - The community of Turkey Creek, Mississippi, abuts the waterway of the same name and is surrounded by the expansion of Gulport around the historically African American community. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 13, 2015 – The community of Turkey Creek, Mississippi, abuts the waterway of the same name and is surrounded by the expansion of Gulport around the historically African American community. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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.

 

December 13, 2015 - The community of Turkey Creek, Mississippi, abuts the waterway of the same name and is surrounded by the expansion of Gulport around the historically African American community. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 13, 2015 – The community of Turkey Creek, Mississippi,a sign illustrates the diversity of avian species which frequent Turkey Creek. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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.

December 13, 2015 - The community of Turkey Creek, Mississippi, abuts the waterway of the same name and is surrounded by the expansion of Gulport around the historically African American community. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 13, 2015 – “God Will Make A Way,” is emblazoned over the local church’s carport in Turkey Creek, Mississippi. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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.

December 13, 2015 - Turkey Creek, Mississippi, where the airport was built near the watershed. Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 13, 2015 – Turkey Creek, Mississippi, where the airport was built near the watershed.
Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

December 13, 2015 - The community of Turkey Creek, Mississippi, abuts the waterway of the same name and is surrounded by the expansion of Gulport around the historically African American community. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 13, 2015 – The community of Turkey Creek, Mississippi, abuts the waterway of the same name and is surrounded by the expansion of Gulport around the historically African American community. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

December 8, 2015 - Mr. Eugene Johnson, a resident of Turkey Creek, MIssissippi talks about life in Turkey Creek outside a building which housed the office of the Creosote plant in Turkey Creek. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 8, 2015 – Mr. Eugene Johnson, a resident of Turkey Creek, MIssissippi talks about life in Turkey Creek outside a building which housed the office of the Creosote plant in Turkey Creek.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

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.

December 8, 2015 - The former office of the Creosote Plant in Turkey Creek, MIssissippi. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 8, 2015 – The former office of the Creosote Plant in Turkey Creek, Mississippi.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

December 8, 2015 - The former office of the Creosote Plant in Turkey Creek, MIssissippi. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 8, 2015 – The former office of the Creosote Plant in Turkey Creek, MIssissippi.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

 

December 8, 2015 - Mark TK, tours the old office of the Creosote Plant at Turkey Creek, Mississippi. Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution

December 8, 2015 – One of the architects working on preserving historical buildings in Turkey Creek tours the old office of the Creosote Plant at Turkey Creek, Mississippi.
Photo by Susana Raab/Anacostia Community Museum/Smithsonian Institution