(Note: This history was read at the 64th annual gathering, held in San Diego on Saturday, August 8, 2009, by Delta Claybrook. It is considered a “work in progress” as we continue to search for more information on our families.)
This year, 2009, commemorates the 64th official annual gathering of the Gibbs-Hayes-Mitchell Family Reunion.
It began in 1945 when two sisters, Cora Hayes, and Josie Mitchell--along with their aunt, Relda Gibbs--had a desire to bring family together for a reunion in Lovejoy, Illinois. Cora’s daughter, Gertrude House Moore, was also involved in planning the reunion.
During that time, the country was still recovering from the years of economic depression hardships, World Wars, and high unemployment. Small towns like Lovejoy and Mounds had little if any jobs to offer, so many younger generations left the area in the late 30s and early 40s to pursue employment opportunities elsewhere. The Gibbs-Hayes-Mitchell offspring moved to cities such as Chicago, East St. Louis, St. Louis, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Detroit, Gary, Omaha, Ypsilanti, St. Paul and San Diego to find work in auto manufacturing, meat packing, steel industry, trucking, general factory and labor work, the railroads, etc. Where there was work, they settled and raised families.
Our family’s history, as with most African-American families in this country, is not easily researchable. Society did not totally accommodate or privilege the access to legally recorded births, marriages or deaths of our early forefathers and mothers. Our early history is one of oral tradition or noted in family Bibles. The spelling of names, places and dates were sometimes lost, forgotten or not provided at all.
In brief, this is what we know:
Relda Gibbs and Leddie McGee were sisters and born shortly after slavery. Where they were born and the names of their parents and/or siblings is unknown.
Relda was married to Tobie Gibbs and they had nine children. Six of their children died at birth or before the age of two. Joe, Thomas and Elizabeth survived.
Joe Gibbs married Alma Hester and had seven children.
Thomas Gibbs was married and had two children.
Elizabeth (Lizzie) married Lex Blankenship and had two children
From the Gibbs clan beginning with the unknown parents of Relda and her sister Leddie, there are now seven generations.
Leddie McGee’s husband’s name is unknown. Leddie had three daughters, Mary whose married name was Milbourn, Cora who married Thomas Hayes and Josie who married Ervin Simmons Sr. and later after he died married a Mr. Mitchell.
Mary Milbourn, the oldest of Leddie’s daughters, was nicknamed “Snow,” she had nine children. We haven’t had any known contact with this branch of the family but keep them in memory and prayer.
Cora Hayes, the second oldest of Leddie’s daughters was nicknamed “Clay,” she had 13 children, four of whom died at birth or before the age of two.
From the Hayes clan beginning with the unknown parents of Leddie there are now nine generations. Josie Michell, the third daughter of Leddie, was nick named “Coal.” She and her husband Ervin had 13 children. Eleven died at birth or at an early age.
From the (Simmons) Mitchell clan beginning with the unknown parents of Leddie there are now eight generations.
Reunions were held in the late 40s in Lovejoy and then in Mounds at the home of Relda’s son, Joe Gibbs, for many years after on the 2d Sunday in August.
In the late 60s and early 70s, the reunion began and continues to be held in other cities and states. It’s been held in Canada as well. Also, during this time, we began holding a Saturday evening family meeting to discuss when the next two years reunion would take place, thus leaving Sunday for family worship and picnic. T-shirts with the family logo was decided in the early 80s and the family color Black and Gold was also chosen. A few of the traditional foods served at the reunion included fried chicken, bar b q, gees, turkey and dressing, corn bread, relish, pies/cobblers (especially sweet potato, peach, and blackberry) cakes (especially yellow, lemon, pound and chocolate), watermelon, homemade ice cream, soda. Horse shoes was the game played among the men folk
Although we celebrate 60 plus years of our official annual gatherings, the Gibbs-Hayes-Mitchell family regularly got together after church on Sundays. So the tradition of the family coming together was instilled way before 1945.
Even with humble beginnings in southern Illinois and limited access to education, the Gibbs-Hayes-Mitchell family has nevertheless overcome and achieved much. We have relatives with degrees and multiple degrees. They are represented in the fields of nursing, dental, mental and health care, education, military, performing arts, real estate, professional sports, business, the ministry, culinary, journalism, government, banking, insurance, photography, and other professional professions. We live in Alaska, California, Oren, Colorado, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Maryland, Washington, D.C. Virginia and in some foreign countries.
The family reunion was and still is a time for us to reflect on our roots, reminisce the past and look ahead to the future. We are blessed to be part of this family, to share our love and care for one another. We should never forget that many families do not get together annually or know their history. Remember scripture says person who has no vision perished. Let’s keep this tradition going for generations and generations to come!