Susan Cosier
Published: 01/25/2011

Mark LaSalle, director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, on The Daily Show.

A historic African-American community in Mississippi ravaged by Hurricane Katrina seemed bound for destruction. For years the town was threatened with development and subject to dumping. The citizens appealed to local and state officials and the NAACP for help, but it was the National Audubon Society that stepped in and helped protect Turkey Creek.

“Thank God for the birds,” local activist Derrick Evans, formerly a lecturer of History & African American Studies at Boston College, told The Daily Show’s Wyatt Cenac.

Yes, it’s unexpected that birds were the reason that Turkey Creek is now safeguarded from eminent domain claims and dumping, yet the results are impressive.

“When outdoor enthusiasts got involved, it just changed things dramatically, I think,” said Evans. “We recently we able to force a concession from the state to throw over 1,600 acres into perpetual conservation.”

“Thanks to the birds?” asks Cenac, who interviews a number of members of the community, Al Sharpton, and Mark LaSalle, director of the Pascagoula River Audubon Center.

“Birds are very revered in Mississippi,” responds Evans.

Freed slaves established Turkey Creek in 1866 during reconstruction, making it a significant historical site rich in culture. The location is also valuable to birds, which lead Audubon and the Mississippi Coast Audubon Society to designate it as a site on the Mississippi Coastal Birding Trail and as an important urban greenway.

“Many other organizations have joined forces with the Turkey Creek Community Initiative, established by Derrick in 2003 with a mission ‘to conserve, restore and utilize the unique cultural, historical and environmental resources of the Turkey Creek community and watershed for education and other socially beneficial purposes,’” according to the Audubon Pascagoula River Audubon Center website. (For more about the project there, click here.)

And so, in an ironic twist of fate, the efforts lead to the preservation of both a community and bird habitat.