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Book review by Jim Zeigler
I am going to give a high compliment to the new book by Dr. Karl Stegall, “An Amazing Alabama: A county-by-county journey around the great state of Alabama,” which is like something I would have written myself.
Stegall, a retired longtime Methodist minister, got the idea for narrating a drive through Alabama when a scruffy-looking Peter Jenkins walked into Stegall’s Montgomery church service. Jenkins had been contracted by “National Geographic” to walk across America and write a book about it.
Jenkins’ travel book later hit Number One on best seller lists. That got the attention of Karl Stegall. After retiring, Stegall and his wife made a similar journey to all counties of Alabama, and this book tells the stories, plural.
Stegall is well qualified to tell the stories of Alabama’s unusual places and people because he has met many of the people and “heard tell of” the rest. In each stop, Stegall tells of the difference-making native sons.
Those who know Stegall will not be surprised that dozens of his stories are about local athletes, Methodist leaders, business successes, and politicians. Also, unusual restaurants, homes, businesses, buildings, and monuments.
If you want a feel for the Alabama of the past 80 years and how we got from there to here, “An Amazing Alabama” can be your textbook. Also, it is a refresher course in Alabama geography.
From the Alabama coast in Baldwin and Mobile counties to Lookout Mountain and Sand Mountain in northerly Marshall, DeKalb and Jackson counties, the Stegall couple chronicled a diversity of places and people.
Did you know there is a Havana, Alabama? The tiny town in West Alabama’s Sumter County was home to a leader in education for women and prison reform – Julia Tutwiler. She also wrote the state song, which aptly parallels Karl Stegall’s book:
“Alabama, Alabama, We will aye be true to thee, From thy Southern shores where groweth, By the sea thine orange tree. To thy Northern vale where floweth, Deep and blue the Tennessee, Alabama, Alabama, We will aye be true to thee!
“Broad thy stream whose name thou bearest; Grand thy Bigbee rolls along; Fair thy Coosa-Tallapoosa Bold thy Warrior, dark and strong, Goodlier than the land that Moses Climbed lone Nebo’s Mount to see, Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!
“From thy prairies, broad and fertile, Where thy snow-white cotton shines. To the hills where coal and iron, Hide in thy exhausted mines, Strong -armed miners -sturdy farmers; Loyal hearts what’er we be, Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!
“From thy quarries where the marble White as that of Paros gleams Waiting till thy sculptor’s chisel, Wake to life thy poet’s dreams; Fear not only wealth of nature, Wealth of mind has no fee, Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!
“Where the perfumed south-wind whispers, Thy magnolia groves among, Softer than a mother’s kisses, Sweeter than a mother’s song, Where the golden jasmine trailing, Woos the treasure-laden bee, Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!
“Brave and pure thy men and women, Better this than corn and wine Make us worthy, God in Heaven Of this goodly land of Thine. Hearts as open as thy doorways. Liberal hands and spirits free. Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!
“Little, little can I give thee, Alabama, mother mine. But that little – hand, brain, spirit. All I have and am are thine. Take, O take, the gift and giver. Take and serve thyself with me. Alabama, Alabama, we will aye be true to thee!”
The book can be ordered online on Amazon at Amazon.com. There is a 296-page paperback and a Kindle edition. What a thoughtful gift for birthdays or Christmas to those who are fascinated by all things Alabama.
The reviewer, Jim Zeigler, is the elected state auditor of Alabama. He is a former news reporter.