When I launched “Hugh’s News & Views” back on November 11, 2010 I said I would deal with a variety of matters: Bible teaching, religion (Bible and religion are often two entirely different things), spiritual issues, moral issues, political matters, sports/recreational/ entertainment matters, personalities, even personal and family matters, etc. While most of my columns have dealt primarily with biblical and religious issues, I have nevertheless tried to have a “mix” of other things from time to time. This week I am going in a somewhat different direction as I talk about the state of my birth—Alabama. As will be shown later in the column, the idea for this week’s essay came from Earl Kimbrough, a fine gospel preacher whom I have known since I was 13 or 14 years old, an outstanding restoration movement historian, and also a native of Alabama.
I was blessed to have been born in Alabama, in Geneva County, near the town of Samson, in the Wiregrass Area of the state. Before I started to school my family moved, first to central Florida near Orlando, then to the Florida panhandle town of DeFuniak Springs in Walton County. Walton County, Florida and Geneva County, Alabama join each other.
In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school my family moved to Florence, Alabama in northwest Alabama. Here I completed my last two years of high school at Mars Hill Bible School. At Mars Hill I was active in speech, debate, drama, and choral events, and in my junior year (1953-1954) I was fortunate enough to win the state championship in Extemporaneous Speaking at the Alabama State High School Forensic and Speech Tournament held every spring at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. While I had filled some limited preaching appointments in small churches in Florida, it was while I was a student at Mars Hill that I began preaching more often, and by the time I was a senior in high school I was preaching every Sunday for a church near Florence.
Through 42 + years of full-time ministry I served churches in Alabama on two different occasions: The Pleasant Valley church (now Regency) in Mobile (1972-76) and the Houston Park church in Selma (1995-2000). I have conducted scores of gospel meetings from one end of the state to the other and from one side of the state to the other—all the way from Florence to Geneva, from Hunstville to Mobile, from Borden Springs to Bayou La Batre (home of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in the movie “Forrest Gump”). Multiple meetings have been held in several of these locations (e.g., fourteen meetings over a course of nearly 60 years with the Center Hill church near Florence [where I preached when in high
school] and six in the city of Florence itself. To say the least, the church of our Lord in Alabama has been exceedingly good and kind to me!
Many famous people were born in Alabama. A few are as follows: Tallulah Bankhead (Hollywood actress), Hugo Black (long serving Justice on the U. S. Supreme Court), Helen Keller, Johnny Mack Brown (leading the University of Alabama football team to the 1925 Rose Bowl victory and later a star in western movies), Jesse Owens (winner of four Gold Medals in the 1936 Berlin Olympics), Joe Louis (Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the world from 1937 to 1949), Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Nat King Cole, Condoleeza Rice, Hank Williams, Rosa Parks, Fred Gray (gospel preacher and civil rights lawyer), Emmylou Harris (country and pop music icon), Bart Starr (standout quarterback at the University of Alabama and for the Green Bay Packers), Bo Jackson (standout athlete at Auburn University where he was a Heisman Trophy winner and an All-American in both baseball and football and who went on to play both Major League Baseball and NFL Football), Charles Barkley, Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle), George C. Wallace, and many, many more too numerous to mention. Though neither Booker T. Washington nor George Washington Carver was born in Alabama, their work and fame were gained through the work that did at Tuskegee Institute (now University) in Alabama where both are buried.
Alabama is known nationally for its superiority in college football. Paul “Bear” Bryant, Gene Stallings, and Nick Saban have been legendary coaches at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where they coached such players as Joe Namath, Johnny Musso, Kenny Stabler, Mark Ingram (2009 Heisman Trophy winner), and Derrick Henry (2015 Heisman Trophy winner, now an outstanding performer with the Tennessee Titans of the NFL where he has been the leading rusher in the entire NFL for the last two seasons). Saban has won six national championships at Alabama.
Across the state, at Auburn University, Ralph (Shug) Jordan (born in Selma, where an eternal flame burns in his memory) led a winning football program for many years. Such notable players as Fob James (twice governor of the state, first term as a Democrat, second term as a Republican), Pat Sullivan (1971 Heisman Trophy winner), Bo Jackson (1985 Heisman Trophy winner, mentioned above), and Cam Newton (2010 Heisman Trophy winner) played at Auburn.
In 1969, four boys from the town of Fort Payne, Alabama formed a Country and Southern Rock band and called themselves “Alabama.” They went on to a long and illustrious career, extending to over 40 years. I still play their “Christmas in Dixie” every year around Christmastime and think it is a Christmas classic. (For many years, Alabama was known as “The Heart of Dixie,” and in the hearts of many of us it still is.)
Alabama has produced such notable preaching families as the pioneer Srygley family, Gus Nichols and his three preacher sons, S. F. Hester and his four preacher sons (as well as several grandsons who preach), W. A. Black, V. P. Black (and other brothers and nephews who preached), and Rex A. Turner, Sr., one of the co-founders of what is now Faulkner University in Montgomery. William Woodson, a great Bible scholar and longtime professor at Freed-Hardeman University and David Lipscomb University, was born in Jasper, Alabama.
Earl Kimbrough (mentioned earlier) was born in Russellville (Franklin County), Alabama and became a great historian of the restoration movement, the movement to restore original, apostolic, first century, undenominational Christianity in the present age by going back to the Bible and the Bible alone, without the creeds and catechisms of men. Below is part of a piece titled “A Little Extra, Random Memories” that I received from Earl on February 12, 2021. Since this article on “Alabama” must end somewhere I will use what Earl wrote to conclude this tribute to the state of my birth.
“It is natural that in writing so much about people, times, and events relating to Alabama that much was said about the state itself. However, I could never describe Alabama and my love for it, as well as the late William H. Key, Jr., a prominent Russellville attorney. I appreciate very much what Mr. Key wrote many years ago. His words, as given below, are from a book about northwest Alabama that was written by then seventh district Congressman Carl Elliot. Mr. Key wrote:
“I have always lived in Franklin County and have always been glad that I have. I have always been glad Franklin County is a part of Alabama, for Alabama is a great state. I think that when the Creator made the world, He was especially proud of the part that is Alabama; that He smiled upon it, and blessed it lavishly. He gave it wide prairies, mighty rivers, and majestic mountains, bulging with treasures for men to appropriate and enjoy. He spread across Alabama’s brow the mighty Tennessee River, as if He had crowned her with a band of silver. He adorned her breast with precious stones of coal, iron ore, and limestone. Around her waist He placed a girdle of shining steel. Her skirts were woven from the pure white cotton from fields of the Black Belt, fringed at the hem with the green of the Wire Grass. And thus she sits in queenly splendor, her feet laved in the blue waters of the Gulf. Yes, God has been good to Alabama, and may her people be forever grateful, and deserving of, the manifold blessings that He has so lavishly bestowed upon her.”
March 30, 2021