This is a report on the status of the communities and some of the residents featured in the cover story in Shelterforce’s July/August 2005 issue, Crossing Muddy Waters. As they are located within three miles of the Gulf of Mexico in southern Mississippi, North Gulfport and Turkey Creek sustained heavy damage on Aug. 29, 2005 from Hurricane Katrina.
The groups featured in the story, Turkey Creek Community Initiatives (TCCI) and the North Gulfport Community Land Conservancy (formerly Community Land Trust) are among the groups involved in a grassroots planning process to protect their neighborhoods from encroaching development. The planning effort was instigated by Hurricane Katrina and is just getting underway. It is occurring on the heels of the Mississippi Renewal Forum, a planning process supported by Governor Haley Barbour, which made proposals for future development and land protection in the North Gulfport area. See Turkey Creek and Mississippi Renewal for more information.
Derrick Evans, founder of TCCI, was out of harm’s way when the hurricane hit in August. Many of his neighbors stayed in their homes to ride out the storm. Evans learned that his mother was in her home in Turkey Creek when water from the storm rose as high as the rafters. A neighbor helped her evacuate, using an air mattress to float. The TCCI office was badly damaged but many of its historical archives were salvageable. The neighborhood church and many homes along Turkey Creek were severely damaged or destroyed.
Shelterforce received word that Rose Johnson and Becky Gillette, co-founders of the Community Land Trust, were safe. We also heard that Burnice Caldwell, who is pictured on the cover of the July/August issue of Shelterforce, was safe, but her house was lost. Howard Page, a board member of the land trust and the photographer for the story, was able to evacuate with his entire family, although his home was also destroyed. It was only four blocks from the coast, in an area of Gulfport where an estimated 95 percent of all structures were ruined by the tidal surge.
As the focus shifted from emergency disaster relief to repairing homes, Evans brought roofing, tarps, bleach and other materials to the community from a base in Birmingham, AL. Trisha Miller, the author of our story, was in Jackson, MS on Sept. 9 helping disaster victims to register for federal aid. On the same day, TCCI and Johnson were close to securing the services of professional roofers to work in their community for 30 days.
(Thanks to author Trisha Miller for contributing to this report. See the September/October 2005 issue of Shelterforce for a follow-up story by Miller on the recovery and rebuilding effort. Also see the Summer 2006 issue for a story by Miller on how landlords tried to evict many tenants in southern Mississippi after the storm.)
Funds to help the community recover from the disaster can be sent to:
Turkey Creek Community Initiatives
14439 Rippy Road
Gulfport, Miss. 39503
Click here for additional listings of grassroots organizations and charities providing relief
TURKEY CREEK tells the story of a handful of determined Mississippians who have struggled to save their endangered community in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Derrick Evans and his family and neighbors are descendants of emancipated slaves who settled on the Gulf Coast in the 1860s. They have been stewards of Turkey Creek’s rich wetland habitat for generations, where they farmed, fished, hunted and were baptized. Today, the Turkey Creek watershed lies at the center of the sprawling city of Gulfport - Mississippi’s fastest-growing urban area. The threat of encroaching sprawl spurred by the gaming industry in the 1990s and the devastation of Katrina in 2005 mobilized members of this insular, self-sufficient community and made them citizen activists on a regional and national level.
Click here to learn about THE BRIDGE PROJECT.
TURKEY CREEK is the compelling story of a fragile yet resilient community fighting to preserve its ancestral land and way of life as a city grows rapidly around it. The film is also the story of one man’s struggle to come to terms with the meaning of home and community.
There’s something about a place that you grew up in. Like the buttercups, palmetto trees, magnolias. That’s a part of you. You can’t take that away.
- The Rev. Harry Tartt
Before Hurricane Katrina, TURKEY CREEK was a dramatic story about the Old and New South colliding. The story began when the community cemetery was bulldozed for commercial development and an elderly white mayor called his constituents “dumb bastards” for standing in the way of a 1,300-acre development in the Turkey Creek watershed. The outrage over these offenses led to a strong coalition among communities in the watershed and national environmental and civil rights groups. The development proposal was defeated and in the spring of 2005 all nine candidates running for mayor said they would support the creation of a landtrust and greenway to protect the watershed.
In the aftermath of Katrina, the physical and political landscapes in Gulfport have been dramatically transformed. Since the first days after the storm, when FEMA had yet to arrive, there has been a clear inequity in the recovery effort in Mississippi and signs of a broad trend of displacement on the Gulf Coast. In Gulfport, many African American homeowners without insurance cannot afford to repair or rebuild their homes, and many low-income tenants remain without affordable housing. Not long after the storm, the new mayor of Gulfport told the Washington Post that national attention from Katrina increased land prices on the beach by 50 percent. Weeks after the storm, residents learned that the Governor’s Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal had cited the nexus of the region’s economic renewal in the Turkey Creek watershed. Oxfam America said that low-income residents on the Gulf Coast were “being squeezed out by demolition and redevelopment.” In February 2008, FEMA admitted that the trailer homes it had provided to survivors contained formaldehyde, a carcinogen. The 100,000 hurricane evacuees still living in 38,000 trailers were directed to leave. But no alternative affordable housing was proposed.
I’ve always had it in my mind that somehow someday I would tell this story — the Turkey Creek story. If I’m not careful, if Turkey Creek is not careful, it may be like an obituary.
- Derrick Evans, founder of Turkey Creek Community Initiatives
Hurricane Katrina pulled back a mask that hid realities of poverty and race in America. Many low-income African American communities were severely damaged or destroyed. Who will be at the drawing table when these communities are rebuilt or replaced? Through the voices of Gulfport residents, officials and activists with radically different points of view, TURKEY CREEK will explore the dynamics shaping the New South. The film will convey a message of perseverance and hope in the midst of so much devastation.
In conjunction with the production of TURKEY CREEK, a related digital initiative called THE BRIDGE PROJECT is in development. THE BRIDGE PROJECT is an effort to lift up voices from the Gulf Coast. Through a network of relationships between social justice organizations and media-mentor organizations, THE BRIDGE PROJECT aims to empower Gulf Coast communities to tell their own stories and assist them in the creative distribution of these stories to effect change. THE BRIDGE Web site will feature digital storytelling resources and a Gulf Coast map, from which visitors can find and upload videos about citizen-led efforts to create a just and sustainable future. MORE…
The production of TURKEY CREEK has been supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Just Media Fund, the LEF Foundation, the Nu Lambda Trust, the Winograd-Hutner Family Fund, Diana Patrick and Amelie Ratliff.
Watch a clip of TURKEY CREEK on the “Bill Moyers Journal” site. The producer of a segment titled “Katrina Recovery Gone Wrong?” interviewed filmmaker Leah Mahan.
Make a contribution to support the creation and distribution of TURKEY CREEK. The film is a nonprofit project of the Center for Independent Documentary, so your donation is tax-deductible.
The production of TURKEY CREEK continues, along with THE BRIDGE PROJECT digital initiative.
The production of a sequel to HOLDING GROUND is under way.
SWEET OLD SONG is now available on DVD. Events in 2009 celebrated Howard Armstrong's centennial with screenings of SWEET OLD SONG.