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Churches of Arkansas: Promised Land Baptist Church

    

Churches of Arkansas: Promised Land Baptist Church

In 1866, after the Emancipation Proclamation, former slaves (purchased on October 18, 1841, in New Orleans, Louisiana,) homesteaded the East Kiblah community in Arkansas from the plantation of Richard Blanton. Representative surnames of the founders of Kiblah between 1853 and 1880 were Nelson, Holmes, Mothershead, Williams, Spearman, and Simington.

The name Kiblah has a religious meaning and is a derivative of the word “Ka’aba,” or “Caaba,” which means the cubical stone structure in the center of the mosque enclosure in Mecca, toward which all Muslims turn their faces in ritual prayer. The Ka’aba is also known as the House of Allah. It also is said to hold the Black Stone of Mecca that Gabriel was said to have given to Abraham.

During the Civil War the Kiblah community was referred to as the “The Bend,” as in the bend of the Red River (the east boundary of the Kiblah community). According to local legend, both Confederate and Union soldiers took refuge at the river’s bend. Once established as a community, log houses were built as well as three churches (two Baptist and one Methodist), c. 1868. Kiblah continued to operate as a primary agricultural community after the Civil War, with a high percentage of small, row-crop farms mixed with an active timbering and milling industry.

The Promise Land Baptist Church may have been one of the two Baptist Churches from the original town settlement c.1868. It seems to be more likely that the Promise Land Baptist Church was originally founded c.1880. However, local lore says that the building was built in 1885, though the construction of the church places the building roughly around the 1920s and 1930s.

In the late 1800s Champion and Malissa Richardson donated one acre of the land they inherited as former slaves, for the building of The Promise Land Baptist Church. Champion received an initial 160 acres as part of an original homestead, which he was granted on March 1, 1877. It is said that Champion and other community leaders came together to build the Church. Upon the completion of the building, it is said that they rode to Texarkana, Arkansas, by way of covered wagons to get the deed of the building, the journey took three days.

After returning with the deed in hand, the community celebrated their success. Champ and others in the community decided to design pews for the new church building. They carved out these pews by hand and are still in the building. Champion and his family remained active in the community until his death on September 4, 1919 and Malissa’s death on September 1, 1941.

This building is still used today when many of the original community leaders return to the community every other year for a reunion. On that Sunday, they gather in the church to celebrate their heritage. The church was added to the Arkansas Register of Historic Places on December 1, 2010. For even more, read the nomination, hosted online by the Arkansas Historic Preservation Program: http://bit.ly/1QITxkG