Since the last couple of posts were about Scottsboro…
Scottsboro is in the Sand Mountain region of Alabama, where they grow some of the *best* tomatoes – you can get them in NYC labeled as ‘Sand Mountain tomatoes’, like ‘Ponchatoula strawberries’ and ‘Chilton County peaches’.
It’s also a region famous for music – Gene Ivey and his fiddles, gospel music (incl. the sacred harp / shape note singing in Cold Mountain
), and the folk music attracted Alan Lomax
to come and make recordings.
But if you Google ‘Scottsboro’ and ‘Sand Mountain’ the first three results you get aren’t about any of that.
They’re about people handling snakes in church.
This is the Old Rock House Holiness Church in Macedonia, Alabama. One of my favorite authors is Dennis Covington, who wrote Redneck Riviera: Armadillos, Outlaws, and the Demise of an American Dream
about five years ago; back in the 90s he was getting assignments from the NYT and from that we got Salvation on Sand Mountain
, about people who handle snakes in their churches as part of their religious expression. Dennis is from Alabama, so when he started researching the practice for the Times as part of his coverage of Reverend Glenn Summerford’s trial, he kept going and worked it into this book, which turned out to be a National Book Finalist.
Reverend Summerford was the leader of the Church of the L-rd Jesus Christ with Signs Following in Scottsboro. He was on trial for the attempted murder of his wife, Darlene: the charge was that at home, to punish her for something, he held her hand down in a snake box until she was bitten.
He received 99 years for it.
His cousin Billy is pastor at the church above (where they also handle snakes as part of their religious experience). That’s not my religion, but I would be so interested to attend a service as a visitor. Sitting in the back. By the door.
But respectfully. It’s so interesting how other people express themselves to get closer to the Almighty.
It’s all based on a literal interpretation of Mark 16:17-18…from the King James:
17 And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18 They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.
Hopefully soon when you Google ‘Scottsboro’ and ‘Sand Mountain’ it won’t be the sensationalism of snakebites or trials. Tomatoes or pottery or music or the Scottsboro Boys Museum buying the church they’re in would be nice.