The History of Camp Sumatanga (taken from the book "Our Sumatanga" by David N. Hutto, Jr. and Warren Hamby, Jr.)
The origins of a United Methodist camping ministry in North Alabama: “The North Alabama Conference youth camping program began in 1928, when Earl McBee, a youth worker in First Methodist Episcopal Church South, Ensley, was appointed Volunteer Director of an effort to hold summer camps for junior-highs…From 1928 until 1951, Methodist camps were held at various places owned by various organizations and church denominations.”
The founding of Camp Sumatanga: “In 1947, McBee heard about an undeveloped piece of property in St. Clair County that the Boy Scouts had used for primitive camping. The owner wanted to sell. McBee and Elizabeth Brown decided to have a look…(The) property consisted of 430 acres from the crest of Chandler Mountain, down into a valley known as Greasy Cove, north up the side of a hill, to its summit….Mrs. Brown was extremely impressed with the property, and she eventually recommended that it be purchased; the $5,000 asked by the owner, according to Brown, was very reasonable.”
“On August 14th, 1948, 500 youths and adults gathered at the site for a picnic, and to hear Bishop Marvin Franklin speak. It was then that Bishop Franklin spoke of his hopes and dreams for a camp and explained the meaning of the Himalayan word, sumatanga.”
“On September 23, 1950, ground was broken in the area where the Pool Camp is today.”
The meaning of Sumatanga: “Earl McBee and David Hutto prepared a resolution that stated, ‘Our camping program has a two-fold mission in the church. One of the missions is to provide a place where tired bodies with weary souls and uncertain minds may come and find rest and peace. The other mission is to provide a place of vision where men may come and get a larger view of things for the present as well as the future years. With these missions in mind, we are recommending the name Sumatanga for our camp site. The name means a place low enough for all who have a mind to climb to reach its heights and yet high enough for all to catch a vision of higher heights.’ The name Sumatanga was adopted at the 1950 session of the Annual Conference.”
The man who built Sumatanga: David Hutto was born in 1905 in Patton’s Chapel, a rural community near Lincoln, Alabama. A farming accident as a youth nearly took his life and as a result he walked the four miles to school on a pair of crutches. Possibly due to his survival and recovery, he knew in high school he would answer a call into the ministry and enrolled part-time at Birmingham-Southern, finishing in 1933. Despite being told by two separate draft boards that his childhood injury would keep in him from the army, Hutto persisted until he was allowed to be a chaplain, serving in England, France, and North Africa. It wasn’t long after returning to North Alabama that he was appointed the first director of Camp Sumatanga.
“Uncle Dave” Hutto served as the director of Camp Sumatanga until his death in 1969. He saw camp through much of its initial construction and through some of its greatest challenges. In the 1950’s he drew criticism for bringing African-Americans to camp when the society was still segregated. In 1966 he was told by the conference’s camp commission to stop allowing these individuals into the camp and so he offered his resignation. The outcry of youths and adults across North Alabama was so strong that the commission was forced to change the policy and Hutto stayed on as director. Later that year, the Hutto family’s home was burned in retaliation. In 1968, lightning struck and the nearly completed lodge was burned to the ground. David immediately set about rebuilding the lodge to keep a promise he had made to younger campers so they would have their own place to stay at camp. Through all of this, David Hutto persevered and our camping ministry today is a continuing testament of this servant of God.