38 pages 1 hour read

Dennis Covington

Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1995

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Important Quotes

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“And if my experience in that church did nothing else for me, it accustomed me to strange outpourings of the Spirit and gave me a tender regard for con artists and voices in the wilderness, no matter how odd or suspicious their message might be.”

(Chapter 1, Page 10)

Covington has just related his own history with religion and Methodism in East Lake, Birmingham. He describes his childhood church as a “naïve little church” (9) susceptible to scams such as funding a missionary in Zimbabwe that was actually an operational rubber plantation. Although Covington grew up unaware of his own family ties to the mountains and serpents, his mind was more open to unusual religious practices than most.

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“After a few minutes, Brother Carl put the snakes back into the box. The service went on for another half hour. He and Uncle Ully anointed Glenn Summerford’s mother with oil, and she testified that it felt like electricity running up and down her arms. Sister Bobbie Sue led us in another round of songs. Aunt Daisy spoke in tongues. But it was the image of that newly shed copperhead that I couldn’t shake as I stepped into the dark night outside the church. Why had I been drawn to it? What did it mean? The air was frigid. It had been a late, cold spring, and by morning the branches of the flowering peach would be encased in ice.”

(Chapter 1, Page 19)

After his first experience of a snake-handling service, Covington cannot understand his fascination with one of the snakes he has just seen Brother Carl handle. He questions the allure for him, and not yet knowing his family’s personal history with the land and religion, these questions are perfectly reasonable. In this passage, he is also describing some of these figures for the first time and getting to know their temperaments and personalities, such as Aunt Daisy, which readers will come to know as key members of the congregation.

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“In northeastern Alabama, as in much of the rest of the South, progress since World War II has been double-edged: it has meant higher wages, better health, and less isolation from the rest of the world, but it has also meant the loss of a traditional way of life.”

(Chapter 2, Page 23)

While Scottsboro, Alabama, is now a thriving commercial town with a courthouse and clean streets, its reputation precedes it as the home of the Scottsboro Boys—a case in which nine black men were convicted of sexually assaulting two white women, later overturned by the Supreme Court—and the Scottsboro of