Race and Reconciliation on the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad

Railroad tracks, courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

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Race and Reconciliation on the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad

by William Sturkey
Southern Cultures, Vol. 24, No. 4: Winter 2018

“A line of hope for some, the Gulf & Ship Island Railroad became, for others, a legendary site of death and cruelty, a place where modernization and opportunity clashed with archaic traditions and racial oppression.”

An old railroad track runs through the Mississippi Piney Woods to the Gulf of Mexico, timeworn and unnoticed, but riddled with meaning. Fastened to Earth with rusted rails and cracked wooden ties, the track traverses roughly 150 miles of forest on its way to the sea. Every day, people in cars and trucks ramble across the rails without a second thought. To most, the unused tracks are merely bumps under the rubber, slight jolts to busy days filled with work, errands, and social events. Overgrown and forgotten, the old road is no longer needed, but its legacy lingers.