Turkey Creek: Historic African American Community In North Gulfport

North Gulfport is home to the historic African American community of Turkey Creek.

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…. Named for both a brackish stream flowing northeast towards Bayou Bernard and an abundance of wild turkeys in the area, the Turkey Creek community found itself nestled in one of North America’s most diversified natural habitats.

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, for the first time ever, millions of blacks and whites across Mississippi and the South opened savings accounts, purchased land, and attended free public schools, etc. 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 the south. With far less financial, political or social capital than the celebrated founders of Gulfport, Turkey Creek’s early settlers … 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….

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….

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 … 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.

(Excerpted from Turkey Creek Community Initiatives.)

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