Sunday, February 16, 2014

Burnt Corn Methodist Church and Rural Alabama

In January we stopped in Monroeville, Alabama, a small town which is the home of Harper Lee, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Lee's father was an attorney and Lee used to go down to the courthouse with her best friend, Truman Capote, to watch her father in trial. Much of Lee's early life was found in the character Scout, her father was the inspiration for Atticus Finch, Capote was inspiration for Dill, Scout's friend, and the Monroeville courthouse was the model for the courthouse built in Hollywood for the movie. 
Monroeville, Alabama courthouse.
From the balcony, looking at the bench, attorneys tables, witness stand and jury boxes. 
Judy takes the stand. The setting for the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird
Rural Alabama in many ways is idyllic, but like many places in the 1930s, the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird, was full of good people with some prejudices. Atticus Finch won our respect for courageously representing an innocent black man in a town that was unsympathetic and seeking revenge. We visited Monroeville after stops in Atlanta to visit Martin Luther King, Jr's birth home and Ebenezer Baptist Church and Montgomery to visit Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and parsonage. As I walked where MLK walked and saw more plainly the pain and prejudice that he and other black people experienced, as I thought of Tom Robinson and the prejudice recounted in To Kill a Mockingbird, I felt remorse for some of my own attitudes growing up. Would I have oppressed Tom Robinson or opposed Martin Luther King, Jr.? I would like to think not, but I can't ever be sure. I did not know any black people growing up. I remember as a small boy watching the news on television with some fear as the police clashed with black protesters in Alabama and remember wishing that the blacks would behave and not cause any disruption. I remember having some negative feelings when there was a proposal to name a street after Martin Luther King, Jr. in my hometown. To me he was an unwelcome agitator. My understanding is different today. I appreciate the sacrifices these civil rights activists made, necessary uncomfortable sacrifices to force change in injust laws and treatment. I came away with a determination to honor the Martin Luther King, Jr. national holiday and a greater appreciation for the changes he forced on American attitudes and institutions. 

We took a drive through some of the rural Alabama countryside and stopped in the small town of Burnt Corn. What a wonderful name. We'd hoped to stop at the general store there, but found it had recently shut down, a casualty of recent economic bad times. But nearby, a Coca Cola sign on the side of a barn took us back to a bygone era when it cost just $.05 for a bottle. And close to it was a simple beautiful white church with a green roof and a granite sign announcing "Burnt Corn Methodist Church" founded in 1913. A small graveyard sat next to it, mostly monuments to the Kyser family, one of them a philanthropist, legislator and banker. Truman Capote once said in an interview, "My favorite place in the whole wide world is Burnt Corn. I swear, it's just the most delightful wide place in the road, and the way the highway bends right there, with the church and the cemetery and the little country store, and those people." This was what life was like in the 1930s, the setting for To Kill a Mockingbird. These were good, humble people. Good humble people with some prejudices.
Burnt Corn, Alabama Methodist Church

Front door of the Methodist Church.
Stained glass inside the Methodist Church.
A simple cemetery near the church.
Evidence of an older era, just down the road from the church, near the general store.
One of the wonders of travel is the opening of the mind to new ways of thinking, new ways of viewing the world. My reaction to exposure to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the truth embodied in the fictional account of Atticus Finch was unexpected, but a blessing. I have determined to be more conscious of discrimination and less quick to judge others that do not hold my same views.


  1. Life in the South was and still is dramatically different than anywhere I have lived. It's good to have some exposure that adjusts and molds viewpoints. I loved Monroeville.

  2. All of these picturesque settings seem to be straight out of Hollywood. Nice church--simple and clean.