As a freshwater paddler who had recently moved from Memphis to the Mississippi coast, I first encountered Turkey Creek and Mr. Flowers White from my canoe. White was clearly having more luck with his cane pole than my boys and I were with our spinning reels. He taught us some insider's tricks and then invited us back to his home for fried crappie. As he shared his fish and the recipe for a mean fry batter, he also shared stories about himself and his community. This was my introduction to the rich history that my students at Gulfport High School and I would later explore.
White can trace his family history back to the founding of Turkey Creek in 1866. A group of freed slaves bought 320 acres of “swampland” north of what would later become Gulfport. They created a self-sufficient and socially isolated community of farms, residences, businesses, a church, and a school that flourished for more than a century. Then, beginning in the 1980s, Gulfport's growth nearly led to Turkey Creek's demise.
Gambling was legalized in our area in 1992. With the inrush of casino money, Gulfport became Mississippi's fastest growing city. City planners sought to annex only the affluent areas north of town, which would have created a dumbbell-shaped city. When a judge ruled against this plan, Turkey Creek was included in the annexation. Gulfport's planners then proceeded to make decisions with weighty implications for the fate of this low-income black community without including its members at the table. Acres of wetlands in the Turkey Creek watershed were filled in and new zoning laws passed to allow Walmart, Family Dollar, and other commercial buildings to go up along the section of Highway 49 (Gulfport's north-south corridor) that intersects Turkey Creek. As a result, the Turkey Creek community has shrunk precipitously and is now surrounded by an airport, concrete and electrical companies, and a strip mall business district.
According to Ella Holmes-Hines, Turkey Creek resident and longtime city councilwoman, the community has been “under attack” ever since its incorporation at the expense of Gulfport's growth. The environmental and political repercussions for Turkey Creek have been profound.