Every three years the descendants of five families of former slaves come back to the land given to them by their former owner Richard Blanton in Miller County in Arkansas and made official so it could never be taken away by President James Garfield.
Let me give you a little geography lesson. You might need a map, but even with a map, you might not find it. Kiblah is off U.S. Highway 71, about 40 miles north of Shreveport, Louisiana. You could throw a rock to the Arkansas/Texas border. I’m being a little facetious. You might have to throw the rock twice, unless you’re in Texarkana, then you wouldn’t have to throw the rock at all, depending on which side of the Post Office you’re standing in. Half of it’s in Texas, the other half in Arkansas.
There is a new highway, Interstate 49, running mostly parallel to Highway 71 to Texarkana. If you get off at the Doddridge exit, the center of Kiblah, a former schoolhouse, is just a little south about a mile back in the woods.
The three most important things in this community have always been Jesus, family and education. Two Baptist churches were formed according to the writings of Charlie Smith in 1868, and a Methodist church was formed there too. A school was started in 1870 in one of the churches. By 1905 Kiblah had two schools approved by state of Arkansas.
So here I sat in 2016 around nothing but family, in a place where my mother was born and raised. The names of Stuckey, Henderson, Mothershed, Spearman, Holmes, Simington, Williams all started from here. There are Richardsons, like me, but who originated in Texas, Legardyes, Larrys, Harrises, Pattons, Sewells, Vaughns, Randolphs, Caldwells and so many more.
If you want to know about the Great Migration north to the car factories in Michigan, Kiblah is a good place to start. Many residents left the area, not to return for three decades, only to retire and come back, build grand homes on land that has been in their families for more than 100 years.
Imagine, in this day and time, being in a place where you don’t have to lock doors. Where everyone is related by blood in one way or another. In the bend, named so for the bend in the Red River that borders the east side of the hamlet, you are safe and protected.
On my first visit to Kiblah, I was approached by two brothers. I could tell because they looked alike. They asked, nicely, who I was. I explained that I was the son of Irma Lee Stuckey and the brother of Willie Mothershed. They smiled and we started comparing genealogical notes. We were, of course, cousins. I also remember what they said to me: “You can bring anyone down here you want. You’re responsible for them, but if you can’t handle them, we will.” These brothers, I later found out, had spent years making cars in Michigan and were in their 80s, but they still looked like they could pull out a can of whoop-ass.
Was I scared? Not in the least. I was proud of my family. A family that had been standing up for over 100 years in the same spot. Yes, Kiblah is out in the middle of nowhere Arkansas, but for me, it is 165 acres of mine. I look around at the people sitting at the tables and I look like them and they look like me. They have done well for themselves. We have people in all walks of life; you name it, someone in the family does it.
But I worry. Will the next generation look after this heritage? There were 41 names listed in the community reunion book who have passed on in the three years since the last Kiblah Community Reunion, and I know that list is incomplete. Will the next generation care about a place where wireless service is nonexistent and there’s only one bar of cellular service?
I’ve brought my grandchildren here, but will they care where their great-grandmother was born and raised and her ashes scattered — that the shoulders of the people they stand on were broad, strong and self-sufficient?
The other Kiblah families have more to work with. It’s just me and my brother and neither of us are spring chickens. My sons have never been to Kiblah. My fault. By the time I started coming they had lives of their own. So what can I do? I will set up a trust to ensure the taxes on the land are always paid long after my ashes have joined my mother’s so when my children or grandchildren remember, maybe they’ll come home.