Henagar Drive-In Keeps the Ball Rolling on Sand Mountain, Alabama’s Bigotry

By Jennifer Lynn – Princess Garden, Festival of Fantasy Parade

Published on Crooks & Liars on 3/12/2017.

I am not excited about going to see Disney’s latest rendition of “Beauty and the Beast.” Seriously, how many times does Disney need to tell this story? I didn’t care for the animated version, and I’m sure I won’t like this one either. It offends my feminist and anti-bestiality sensibilities to watch a story about a man, turned to a beast, that holds a woman hostage until she falls in love with him.

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, there’s a ridiculous boycott of Disney because some Christians detect a hint of gayness in one of the characters. Friends called me recently and said the wife and I have to go to support Disney. I’m always up for a protest, especially a gay one but they’re really starting to push my limits. I’d considered bailing until I heard about the Alabama drive-in that banned the film claiming it violated their Christian beliefs. I won’t feign surprise, but I did take it personally.

You see, I’m from Alabama, and I dearly love much about it. I grew up in Huntsville which is in the most northern part of the state. It is the home of Redstone Arsenal where my father’s father was a colonel, and to the Space and Rocket Center where my mother’s parents worked with Boeing on the Apollo series.  Huntsville is a hub for engineers and as such, people come from all over the world to work there.

Alabamians joke that you can tell a Huntsvillian because we don’t have that heavy, mumble drawl you hear when listening to Jeff Sessions. My accent might occasionally slip out and it’s getting worse the older I get, but for the most part people here in California have no idea that I was raised in the Bible Belt. Huntsvillians also tend to be more educated and welcoming of different cultures. By no means am I saying there is no racism or bigotry there. There is just like anywhere else. It’s just not as Deliverence-ish as many parts of Alabama.

So when I read that the Alabama drive-in was the Henagar Drive-In, an area that I know well, this Alabama girl lost it. The owner of the drive-in, Carol Laney stated,

“This by no means is sending a message of hatred or bigotry. However, we are Christians first and foremost and must adhere to our Bible and to our Christianity.”

That’s a lovely quote by Carol, but she’s full of shit. First of all, Jesus never said a word against homosexuality. She is taking words from the Bible that were never attributed to Jesus Christ. Secondly, announcing that your actions are not “hatred or bigotry” is basically signalling that they are indeed bigoted and full of hate. Let’s just be honest about this, Carol is using this as an means to draw attention and get business for her drive-in, and it’s working. Next thing you know, she’ll have a fundraiser set up because people are boycotting her.

What Carol and the media have failed to tell it’s readers is that Henagar is located in an area referred to as Sand Mountain. This area has a rich history of racist and bigoted crimes that anyone raised in north Alabama is well aware of. It’s not the type of history that you’ll find in any textbook though. Towns is this region are referred to as “sundown towns,” meaning blacks should not be out in public after sundown. There were even signs posted stating, “N***er don’t let the sun set on you in Sand Mountain.” This was not a joke. And even though those signs were long gone by the time I was a teenager in the 80’s, we all knew the KKK, the League of United Southerners (now known as The League of the South) and Confederate groups ruled that area.

All you need to know about Henagar was that my friends and I (black and white) referred to it as “Hang a n****er.” 

But even if you are not from that region, you should be aware of the Scottsboro Boys story. Scottsboro is twenty-five minutes west of Henagar and part of the Sand Mountain region. In 1931, nine young black men were traveling on a freight train through Scottsboro when they were accused of raping two white women. Sheriff Matt Wann stood in the doorway of the small jail and threatened to kill anyone of the KKK mob who attempted to take his prisoners. They’re intent was to lynch all nine of the men without a trial. The young men were convicted by all white juries and spent as much as nineteen years behind bars before their convictions were overturned.

Though one of the women eventually recanted her story, that didn’t stop the KKK from getting their revenge on Sheriff Wann. He was murdered in 1932. Records from that time are conveniently missing, but everyone in Alabama knows it was the Klan that pulled that trigger, or as we would say, “The Klan done it.”

Henagar itself is over 96% white according to the 2010 U.S. Census. I’m sure there are many residents that are not racist, and maybe Carol is one of them, but there’s been a rise in hate groups and crimes since the Trump administration has taken control. My wife and I recently cancelled our trip to Alabama because we fear these homophobic people who now feel emboldened by Trump. It angers me that I cannot introduce her to the many great things about Alabama. I don’t even feel comfortable visiting my alma mater, Auburn University. It is my home state whether these bigots like it or not.  I am an Auburn Tiger through and through. These people don’t have a right to take away my Alabama simply because they have “deeply held beliefs.” What about my deeply held beliefs?

Back in the day, it was acceptable to be a Klan member, to be a sundown town. Today it’s acceptable to claim your bigotry is justified because the Bible tells you so. A trade up from the region’s anti-black heritage to anti-gay I suppose. Someone should tell Carol that bigotry is still hatred whether you drape it in a Confederate flag or a Bible. They should also tell her that Jesus wasn’t about hate.

War Damn Eagle my friends!