The face in the courthouse window and Honey Boo Boo’s momma: An analysis of Southern culture

Like most fourth graders in Alabama’s public school systems, I was subjected to a haphazard attempt to teach Alabama history. We had a textbook and everything. It lived in the milk crate under my desk up until the last two weeks of the school year, when my teacher finally remembered it (in her defense, we had also been learning American history and social studies all year long).

Needless to say, we didn’t make it very far in those to weeks. We learned about some of the state’s Native American ancestors and were tested on the names and locations of all of Alabama’s 67 counties (I can remember about 10 of them, on a good day). What stuck with me most about Alabama history, and I’m confident most fourth graders would agree, was reading The Thirteen Ghosts of Alabama and Jefferya book of folklore by Katherine Tucker Windham. 

The story about the face in the courthouse window was my favorite. Set in the 1870’s in Carrollton, Ala., the story tells the tale of Henry Wells, a former slave who was accused of burning down the Pickens County Courthouse. Legend holds that he peered down from a courthouse window onto an angry mob and promised that his face would haunt them forever. As he cursed the mob, lightning struck the courthouse, etching his image into the window. No matter how many times the pane is replace or the window scrubbed clean, the image remains.


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It was just about the coolest thing I’d ever heard. 

Fast forward 13 years. Last month, my dad emailed me a ticket to see The Face in the Courthouse Window–The Play at the Pickens County Courthouse. I get the feeling that my dad thinks I’m still nine. He’s right. I was pumped.

So, we drove four hours round-trip to see the play, put on with the help of the University of West Alabama as a fundraiser for the maintenance of the courthouse. The stage was set up in the old courtroom. It was one of those tiny, small-town performances, the kind where they handed out paper fans because the air conditioner had to be turned off in order to hear the actors and a little old lady gets up to greet the audience. She told us she loved us all.

The UWA choir shuffled out onto a too-small platform to the side and started belting out hymns and spirituals. It’s been a while since I felt that southern.

The stage, sets and costumes were simple, there were no costume changes or special effects. But the music and the actors were incredible. It’s tough to get chills in an Alabama courtroom with no air conditioning in April. I did.


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There are lots of great things about seeing a small-town Alabama play, the passion, the music, the emotion. And then there are the accents. Southern people should not force southern accents. We already have them, for the most part. I could understand Honey Boo Boo’s family (without subtitles) more easily than I could understand some of these actors.

Still, I left feeling rather cultured. 

So, bravo to the people of Carrollton and their efforts to preserve a landmark to our southern lore. Also, to Honey Boo Boo’s momma, lest we forget that she has a boyfriend. 


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