It’s something of a miracle that Turkey Creek, Miss., exists at all. The small community of fewer than 400 residents was founded by emancipated African Americans after the Civil War. Hundreds of other Reconstruction-era communities like it across the South simply didn’t survive, many of them burned to the ground by white supremacists the moment they began to show signs of growth or prestige.

In more recent years, Turkey Creek has suffered almost constant environmental and corporate threats, including natural (but likely human-fueled) disasters like Hurricane Katrina, and politicians and developers who ignore the people and animals who inhabit the place, victims of the geography of erasure.

comehell_postcard_frontA just-released documentary, Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek, distilled from 12 years of footage, is the story of this Gulf Coast community’s survival. The 56-minute feature from filmmaker Leah Mahan premiered Oct. 13 at the New Orleans Film Festival, where it walked away with the Audience Award for Documentary Feature. (Disclosure: I worked with Mahan on the Bridge the Gulf blog project in 2012.)

On a deeper level, the film is an exploration of a topic I’ve explored on Grist before and plan to continue covering: How civil rights activists become environmental activists, and vice versa — if there was ever really a difference to begin with.

The narrative in Come Hell or High Water is mostly told through the eyes of Derrick Evans, a burly Turkey Creek native son with an ever-expanding passion for and vocabulary of preservation. He tells us early in the film that his “great-grandfather’s grandfather” founded the community, named after an actual creek in Gulfport where wild turkeys roamed, in the late 19th century.