The past comes alive at Good Hope’s Alabama Bicentennial Festival

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The late Elwin Robinson (portrayed by Preston Seymore) poses for a photo with his wife, Sue Robinson, at Saturday’s There’s Good Hope in Alabama Festival. (Christy Perry for The Cullman Tribune)

GOOD HOPE, Ala. – The rich history of Good Hope was celebrated Saturday at the There’s Good Hope in Alabama Festival. The students and faculty of Good Hope High School (GHHS) worked all year to make sure the festival was a success. The event was one of many celebrations taking place across Cullman County and the state this year commemorating the Alabama 200 Bicentennial.

A statement from the school explained, “The purpose of the project is to bring the school and the community together in order to forge relationships for the present and future as well as to recognize and exhibit the reverence to the history, people and entities of Good Hope’s past. Our faculty, students, town leaders and community will work side-by-side to produce this project. This will serve as a lifelong guide for the students to understand the importance of community history and volunteerism. The school will work to instill pride and accomplishment in the students as they work to see There’s Good Hope in Alabama to maturation. We will forever hold our bit of history as participants in the 200 Alabama Bicentennial.”

The festival schedule had to be rearranged and altered a bit due to the stormy weather Saturday morning, but all the planned events were held. The Raider Run 5K was postponed to the afternoon and the cemetery tours were held in the school’s band room as it was determined the cemetery grounds were too wet for heavy foot traffic.

Festival director Anita Whitlock and the students transformed the school’s gymnasium into the Good Hope museum featuring the many people, places and events that shaped the city. Artwork by the students of Good Hope was also displayed throughout the museum. Younger children were treated to a bouncy house in the gym and the GHHS cheerleaders offered face painting. The corn hole tournament was held in the gym’s balcony.

A craft show was held in the hallways of the high school and the SGA hosted a Kat Daddy’s BBQ lunch in the school’s cafeteria.

The gym also served as the main stage for several special events held throughout the day. The opening ceremony featured Bailey Swann performing “The Star Spangled Banner.” Swann also took the stage a few more times during the festival. Bethany Bynum also performed.

Two special ceremonies took place: Rep. Corey Harbison, R-Good Hope was honored for his contributions and leadership in Good Hope, and David Bice was recognized for his 37 years of service as the school’s ag teacher. The men each received special appreciation awards. Bice will be retiring at the end of this school year.

Bice said that he would miss the kids, then added, “I got a few things I’m looking at doing after I retire. I’m not just going to sit still.”

History came alive in the band room as Good Hope students/actors waited to perform for the cemetery tours. Each student learned of the lives and stories of former Good Hope residents who are buried in the Good Hope Cemetery. The students wore costumes depicting the time period and personalities of the people they portrayed. Making the project more memorable, surviving family members of many of those portrayed attended the performances.

A special performance took place Friday evening for the students’ family members, as well as the family members of those the students chose to portray.

Bynum played young Wanda Coker, who was tragically killed in 1948 when she was struck by a car as she was on her way to school.

Lawton Farr played Charles Christopher Reyer, Jr.

Staying in character, Farr explained, “I was a military Confederate soldier in the war and I died in the war. I had four little girls and right before I left we had them. I was 31 when I died.”

He added, “This was Mrs. Whitlock’s idea, but we all kind of pitched in to help. We did one last night for the family members with a VIP reception.”

As The Tribune sat with the actors prior to their first Saturday tour, the personal commitment the students demonstrated to the people they would portray was apparent. They were eager to share everything they had learned.

Cullman County Schools Superintendent Dr. Shane Barnette, whose son Noah portrayed James Melvin (JM) Sanford, who owned “The Rock Store,” said of the performance, “They did a great job. When I was a kid, probably 6 or 7 years old, we went to church in Good Hope and we always stopped at that Rock Store on the way to church. We’d go in there and get a snack or something, usually a pack of Certs. These kids will never forget this. It will be embedded in their minds forever.”

Elwin Robinson and Fred and Ethel Robinson were three of the individuals portrayed by the students. Their performance was attended by Sue Robinson. Elwin Robinson was her husband and Fred and Ethel Robinson were her parents. She enjoyed meeting the young actors portraying her late family members and praised them for a job well done. Thanks to the actors, four generations of the Robinson family were represented Saturday as they posed for many memorable photos.

Whitlock was pleased with the day’s festivities, saying, “We have had about 200-300 people sign our guest book, and everyone has done a great job.”

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Christy Perry

christy@cullmantribune.com