By Monica Land
KILMICHAEL – The members of the Elkhorn Primitive Baptist Church are celebrating their 35th annual homecoming celebration this weekend and the public is invited for refreshments, fellowship and fun.
The church will host a “Sunday School” picnic, complete with games, on Saturday, May 26, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday, May 27, at 3 p.m., guests are invited to return for the Homecoming Service.
All activities are free.
“All are invited to join us as we unite our hearts in worship, praise and fellowship,” said Don Henson, the current reverend at Elkhorn.
Fannie Henson Draine, whose grandfather Syrus Bogan Henson, was the founder of the church, said Elkhorn has a rich history dating back before the signing of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863.
“The oral history of our church states that the church began as a bush arbor where my grandfather preached to members of his family and others in the community,” Draine said. “He was the first pastor of Elkhorn Primitive and his wives and all of his children attended this church.”
A slave, Syrus Henson was 28-years-old when he was declared a free man by the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Draine said pastors that followed Henson were Reverends Greene, Jenkins and Timothy Henson. Rev. Alex L. Holman, she said, began his tenure at Elkhorn around 1928 and pastored for 30 years.
Elkhorn has been a member of the Hickory Spring Association for 110 years, and was declared a historical landmark in 2007.
Ekhorn Primitive Baptist Church also built and maintained Elkhorn School, which was attended by the children in the community.
“Records show that the school had as many as 268 students enrolled in 1912,”
Draine said. “Many of Elkhorn’s students have gone on to become very successful, and some like Riley “B.B.” King, have not only been successful, but are world-renowned.”
King, who as a child lived in Kilmichael with his grandmother, Elnorra Farr, after his mother’s death, speaks fondly of his teacher at Elkhorn, Draine’s father, Luther Henson.
Luther Henson was the 20th of 21 children born to Syrus Henson, and King remembers that Luther Henson was determined to better himself through education and he passed that on to his students.
“He tried to educate his pupils in practical skills that would improve their lot in life and social ideas that would build self-esteem and a positive idea of being black,” B.B. King said in his autobiography. “He taught self-sufficiency and prudent management of one’s own resources, however meager they might be.”
King credits Luther Henson with being a major influence in “building his character,” and said as he grew up he personally adopted many of Luther Henson’s traits.
“…He built in me a great enthusiasm for self-improvement through education,” King said. “He was a remarkable man. And he gave me a positive self-image.”
King has returned to Elkhorn several times to spend time with his former classmates and childhood friends. His mother, Nora Ella King, is buried at Pickney Grove Church in Kilmichael and his grandmother is reportedly buried nearby.
King’s strong connection to Kilmichael and Elkhorn School and church are well-documented at his museum and interpretive center in Indianola, Miss.
The church also maintains the Elkhorn Cemetery where members of the Elkhorn Church and community are buried.