Families gather for reunions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 14, 2004

FREE WOODS &045; Virtually abandoned in the first half of the 20th century, the remote Franklin County farming community of Free Woods &045; where three races reportedly intermingled and abolished slavery before the Civil War &045; will come to life for a day this summer as its descendants gather for the biannual Free Woods reunion.

The reunion is also held each year in Detroit, according to Free Woods descendant and Detroit resident Harry Gibson.

Harry Gibson, 67, recently mailed out more than 300 invitations, spreading the word about this year’s June 12 reunion at Free Woods, as well as the 23rd annual Detroit reunion on July 3.

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The Free Woods reunion is held on Gibson family property, just down the road from Gloriasteen Gibson, who first organized the Free Woods reunion. Gloriasteen is the sole Free Woods native remaining in the old community.

Free Woods native Marshall Miller, 89, recalled serving over 400 guests at a Free Woods reunion in the 1960s.

&uot;We had a big yearling that I had butchered, and a hog that weighed over 400 pounds. We had 12 dozen chickens and 250 pounds of catfish. We had a ball,&uot; he said.

Harry Gibson also helped establish the Free Woods Foundation Inc. &045; a non-profit organization that funds education for Free Woods descendants.

&uot;We have over $100,000 in the fund now. We make low-interest loans to students who want to go to college or vocational school. I’ve tried to tie the eight original Free Woods families to this organization,&uot; Gibson said.

The St. James Baptist Church at Free Woods, which Free Woods matriarch Clorie Miller set aside property for in the 19th century, still holds services on the second Sunday of each month.

The church was moved in 1961 to its current location adjacent to the Free Woods Cemetery on a gravel road several miles south of the Franklin County community of Knoxville, near the Homochittoa River.