Much like fall tomatoes, little towns often intensify in flavor as they grow smaller in size.
Kingsland, just a short 40-minute trip southwest of Pine Bluff, is no exception.
On Friday, Sept. 7, they were at it again. Along with Cromwell & Associates Architect Ed Levy, University of Arkansas at Monticello Home Extension Service’s Mark Peterson, Little Rock-based facilitator and artist Ken Hubbell and Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism representatives Darrell Brown and Joy Barlogie met with some 25 Cleveland County residents in downtown Kingsland for a luncheon at the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church.
The primary goal of this focus group is to develop the old Kingsland Post Office and neighboring bank into a Johnny Cash museum and visitor center. According to project director Sharon Crosby, deeds to the two properties are currently at an attorney’s office in the process of being signed over to the City of Kingsland.
Prior to the meal, a portion of the group toured the Johnny Cash birthplace north of town, then visited the Kingsland Elementary School to take in the impressive Cash history on display in the auditorium. Following lunch, Cleveland County Herald editor and “Kick-Start Cleveland County” Chairman Brit Talent introduced the special guests.
Peterson began the discussion explaining his interest in the project and how he came to Arkansas from his home in Iowa. He pointed out that Iowa actually stands for “I’m On My Way to Arkansas.”
He further said, “We want to use this opportunity to tell the story of Cash’s early days growing up here that are unique to this area instead of retelling what they have already said in other places like Nashville and Dyess.”
Following the introduction of the five outside experts, Hubbell took the lead, having everyone take a moment to share their hopes for and interest in the project.
He began his presentation by saying, “There are many things that have already been well interpreted. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We’re looking for what hasn’t thus far been established in the Johnny Cash history.”
Hubbell had those in attendance break into four smaller groups to address five questions:
1) What is your hope and vision for the Kingsland Johnny Cash Center?
2) What can we accomplish in the next five years?
3) Who are our potential customers?
4) What unique Johnny Cash history and memorabilia do we have to offer?
5) What are our best storytelling materials?
Following a 20-minute brainstorming session, one member from each of the breakout groups shared their ideas with the whole while Hubbell used his artistic talent to colorfully sketch the concepts on a large storyboard.
Some of the noted suggestions include:
1) Establish a 501 (c)3 tax deductible designation and secure funding channels through grants, donations and the Johnny Cash Trust to get the center open.
2) Create a real destination that people can visit while financially breaking even or making a profit.
3) Cooperate with the Dyess Johnny Cash Museum for a Heritage Trail continuum.
4) Establish means to lure both domestic and international travelers to the new center.
5) Create a stage and music venue to host various entertainment events.
6) Reestablish the local Johnny Cash Festival that has been on hold for the past few years.
7) Select and collect oral histories from the region to share deeper insight into Cash’s life.
8) Utilize the center and museum to tell a broader story about the region’s history outside that of just Cash.
9) Tell how Cash’s maternal (Rivers) and paternal (Cash) families fit into his local biography.
Two of Cash’s first cousins, Mark Rivers and Wayne Cash, were among those present.
Each shared how their family members possess numerous pieces of memorabilia and personal documents that could expand the Cash story and provide insights not available elsewhere.
Kingsland native Mark Rivers told the crowd he had been texting Johnny and June’s son John Carter Cash during the session and had just received an encouraging reply. Sharing the post, he read, “That sounds like a great project to honor dad. Please keep me informed and bring all the information when I see you at Dyess in October.”
Rivers further said, “Speaking with entertainers Marty Stuart, cousin Rosanne Cash and Hank Williams, Jr. over the years, they have each told they will come here to perform in support of the project.”
Rivers also pointed out how Cash’s birth name was actually “J.R.” and that point should be correctly reported in the future collection. It wasn’t until joining the Air Force that he was required to have more than just initials on his enlistment papers, so he signed as “John Cash.”
Landing his first recording contract with Sun Records, Sam Phillips gave him the now-familiar stage name “Johnny Cash.”
Talent shared how his newspaper has KATV television footage from Johnny and June’s 1976 concert in Rison, along with many still photos from their show during the March 31, 1994, new Kingsland Post Office dedication and launch of the 29-cent Carter Family postage stamp.
Other items of interest offered for future display include a document from the late 1870’s when Kingsland was originally incorporated.
It is a federal application to officially establish the original post office. The suggested name in the parchment for the newly-founded township is listed as “Arkatha Cohasset.” Legend holds how that was the native-American title for the place, meaning “land between the waters,” due to the fact it sits on a ridge between Moro Creek on the west and the Saline River to the east.
Much like Cash’s own name evolution, the original handwritten appellation on the document is scratched through and replaced with the now familiar moniker of “Kingsland.”