Monday, October 31, 2005

10.27.05 - 5:00 pm - North Gulfport, MS - Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights

On Thursday the Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights came in from DC with 10 workers and 20 cells phone and set up a FEMA assistance help center in North Gulfport. As a busy day was coming to an end a group of residents from the Edgewood Manor housing development (locally known as" Red Ball" )came to tell of how they were being forced to leave their structurally sound homes the following Monday with no formal process.
They also reported numerous other abuses such as a private security firm armed with guns and rifles that blocked relief workers from delivering food and water in the early days after the storm.

Captions from top to bottom.

Rose Johnson (left), north Gulfport Land conservator confers with John Hooks (back to camera and Trish Miller both of LRCC.

Rose Johnson with residents of Edgewood Manor.

Volunteer Margaret White of Washington DC.

On site at "Red Ball"

Ms. Christine Bryce, tenant advocate, tells of her experiences in trying to help residents of Edgewood Manor

10.24.05 - 8:00 pm - Ocean Springs, MS

Derrick caught up with Richard Moe, President of National Trust for Historic Preservation in Ocean Springs.

Ocean Springs City Hall meeting of local preservationists.

10.27. 05 - 3:00 pm - Pascagoula, MS

In preparation for his November 1 testimony in DC Derrick visited Pascagoula, MS to further document potential sites for National Trust designation. First stop St. Peter's school and church where the student pictured here told of both his house and school being torn up by the storm.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

10.24.05 - 10 am - Gulfport MS

The MIG team visits Gulfport City Hall before heading back to Berkeley, CA.

10.23.05 - 1:00 pm - TCCI HQ - Turkey Creek, MS

Photos from the top:
Day two of meeting with the planners of MIG under the oaks.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

91 year old plans for the future of Turkey Creek

Turkey Creek resident 91 year old Oliver White plans for the future in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at a community workshop hosted by TCCI and The North Gulfport Land Conservancy for the historic African American communites of the Lower Turkey creek basin of Gulfport. Facilitated by the Berkeley based planners of MIG, INC the meeting was help under the oaks at TCCI's headquarters on Rippey Road.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

A Brief History of Turkey Creek

The History of Turkey Creek and its Importance
to our Local, State and National Heritage

by: Derrick Evans

Born of mid-nineteenth century federal legislation, the entire area described as Section 22 of Range 11 West in Township 7 South first entered Harrison County’s land records as an uninhabited and undeveloped “Swamp Land”. Stemming from a popular mandate in the 1840s to increase the acreage of arable land in the southern United States, an 1850 Act of Congress enabled the 1858 transfer of Section 22 from the US Department of the Interior to the State of Mississippi. Nevertheless, prior to the Civil War and the nation’s 1865 return to peace, the entire area remained a wild and unsettled swampland.

In 1866, a small group of recently emancipated African-Americans exercised their newly acquired rights of citizenship, property-ownership and self-determination to purchase and settle the 320 acres or “eight forties” that came to be known as the Turkey Creek community. The land they acquired comprised the entire northern half of Section 22. Named for both the brackish bayou flowing northeast towards Bayou Bernard and the abundance of wild turkeys in the area, the Turkey Creek community found itself nestled in one of North America’s most diversified natural habitats.

Endowed with bottomland and coastal lowland maritime forests, as well as freshwater marsh, scrub shrub and flood plain habitats, the old “eight forties” and larger creek basin were populated by a diverse array of wildlife, fish and flora. Many native Mississippi plant and tree species, including sub-tropical and wetland varieties, continue to thrive there. The dominant trees include slash pine, water oak, live oak, magnolia, red maple, sweet bay, red bay, tupelo, red cedar, wax myrtle and flowering dogwood. The marine life includes fresh water and estuary species alike, such as mullet, catfish, perch and gar, as well as blue crabs and crawfish. The people of this community have always supplemented their diets with fish, plants and wildlife from the forest, the creek, and nearby Bayou Bernard.

It is no coincidence that the 1866 settlement of Turkey Creek by African-American “Freedmen” took place at the beginning of the Reconstruction era, which occurred from 1865 to 1877. During this critically important period of American history, the Thirteenth Amendment (1865) permanently outlawed slavery in the United States; the Fourteenth Amendment (1866) granted ex-slaves US citizenship and “equal protection under the law”; the Fifteenth Amendment (1868) gave black men the right to vote; and millions of blacks and whites across Mississippi and the South opened savings accounts, purchased land, and attended free public schools, etc. for the first time ever. Prior to Reconstruction, a community quite like Turkey Creek had not been possible on Mississippi or American soil.

It is also important to note that the pioneers who settled the poorly drained “eight forties” were every bit as visionary, industrious and innovative as the men who, decades later, would establish the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad, the Port of Gulfport, and the city of Gulfport to their south. With far less financial, political or social capital than the celebrated founders of Gulfport, Turkey Creek’s early settlers successfully fulfilled the intent of the 1858 cession of section 22 to Mississippi. They created arable land to practice sustainable agriculture and developed a viable, self-sufficient American community bound together by local customs and institutions. Clearing footpaths and wagon trails to follow the upland’s winding crest, they built their own homes, farms, businesses, church and school.

Despite their geographic isolation “out” in Harrison County, the people of Turkey Creek did live with considerable connection to trends and events elsewhere on the coast, including the promulgation of black Methodism and the eventual founding of Gulfport. By the 1880s, when the beachfront resumed its ante-bellum prominence as a weekend and summer retreat for well-off southern whites, women from Turkey Creek and other black coastal communities worked there as domestics. It was their labor which kept such noted residences as Grass Lawn in Gulfport and Beauvoir in Biloxi maintained in the grandeur of this era. Kizziah Evans, born into slavery in Virginia, trucked wagon loads of laundry to and from the beachfront weekly, even though she was also one of Turkey Creek’s principal landowners and matriarchs.

1n 1906, when Melinda Benton, an early settler, considered the importance of employment stability to Turkey Creek families, she sold twelve acres on Bayou Bernard to the Gulf Coast Creosote Company so that a plant could exist near their homes. Here, at the height of south Mississippi’s forest industries boom, men from Turkey Creek and nearby districts sorted, shaved, trimmed and treated countless loads of longleaf pine. Enduring tremendous hazards and blistering heat, they fashioned railroad ties and utility poles to be floated, railed and shipped to destinations around the world. The importance of this plant, its workers, and Melinda Benton to the gulf coast’s twentieth century industrialization and development cannot be denied. Their contributions to the expansion of railroads, the Depression era electrification of the United States, and the World War II and postwar needs of our nation have rendered them integrally relevant to local, state and American history.

It is notable that some southern black communities thrived in surprising and remarkable ways during the era of Jim Crow. The Turkey Creek community stands out in this regard due to several factors, including: its relative isolation and autonomy; the land wealth of its residents; its ample supply of both creek and deep-well water for drinking, cooking and cleaning; its abundance of edible plant, fish and wildlife; its relatively steady job opportunities on Creosote Road; the entrepreneurial spirit of many residents; and the community’s exceptionally close-knit bonds of kinship, faith and neighborly cooperation. Even the thickly forested wetlands to the south, east and west served historically to protect the settlement from hurricanes and other undesired intrusions.

For these and other reasons, neither World War II nor postwar growth in the Gulfport area affected Turkey Creek as adversely as they did the neighboring black communities of Corrolton and North Gulfport. After wartime expansion of Gulfport Field completely erased Corrolton from the postwar map, the re-routing of a new and wider Highway 49 carved North Gulfport in half. Enabling the creation of the affluent Bayou View community on one hand, and spurring the growth of suburban Orange Grove on the other, these mid-century public works projects entailed both eminent domain and African-American dislocation, yet left Turkey Creek unscathed. Although postwar growth in transportation, aviation, and commerce, etc. brought dramatic change to the Gulfport area, Turkey Creek’s cultural heritage and physical appearance proved remarkably resilient. Even well after the US Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown Decision, neighborhood children attended classes, lunch and recess on the very same school grounds as their forebears.

Throughout the 1970s and much of the 1980s, Turkey Creek’s land use, folkways, community institutions, and architecture remained remarkably true to earlier times. Because land was security passed from one generation to the next, descendents of earlier settlers held tight to the long, narrow lots extending south from Rippy Road to the creek and beyond. On their land they raised hogs, chickens, goats, vegetables, fruit and so forth, as well as plenty of children for whom the woods were an endless wonder. Important community fixtures like the Mount Pleasant United Methodist Church and the Turkey Creek ball diamond, as well as several “jukes”, stores and other small businesses, further defined and preserved the settlement’s distinct, local flavor. Plenty of wood- framed bungalows and “shotgun” houses still spoke, through their materials, style and construction, of the enduring legacy of earlier occupants.

The Turkey Creek community’s highly valued independence and cultural continuity remained essentially undisturbed until the mid 1980s. At roughly the same time that federal authorities shut down the creosote plant (1986), an ordinance was passed locally requiring Turkey Creek residents to cap their prized water wells and tie into Harrison County water. These two important events were the first major rumblings of a new day to come. Since then, a barrage including airport expansion, annexation by Gulfport, land speculation, deforestation, wetland destruction, commercial sprawl, spot zoning and political isolation have all severely endangered this priceless gem of Mississippi and American heritage. Notably, unsightly sprawl on Highway 49 and Creosote Road has continued to spread to within feet of Turkey Creek homes and yards. Even the community’s historic cemetery, where Melinda Benton and others are buried, was largely destroyed by redevelopment in 2001. In that year, the Mississippi Heritage Trust listed the entire community as one of the state’s Ten Most Endangered Historical Places.

Nevertheless, the Turkey Creek story is not over, nor does it have to end tragically. Intelligent urban planning incorporating growth as well as conservation of Turkey Creek’s natural and cultural assets can readily pose a win-win situation for all of the area’s longterm stakeholders. The creek itself is nothing less than Harrison County’s premier inland urban waterway – great for fishing, birding, hiking and rowing. Gulfport, with 80,000 residents and growing, needs a centrally located urban greenway spanning it and enhancing city life for generations to come. In addition, a number of American cities have already proven that pro-active historic preservation, including in historically minority communities, is integral to smart development and sustainable growth. Southern cities like Charleston SC, Birmingham AL and Memphis TN have all learned that promoting the once-neglected histories of their African-American communities and institutions is highly beneficial to the overall quality of modern urban life, including: commerce, education, race relations, attracting and retaining new residents, and expanding local tourism. On the Mississippi coast, the Turkey Creek community and waterway provide equally rich opportunities.