Children played as crickets chirped and an orange and purple sky faded to black, signaling the end of another successful Emelle Barbecue Club get-together.
“We have minutes from a meeting in 1960, so we’re not exactly sure when the club started,” said Sara Buck, treasurer of the Emelle Barbecue Club and wife of Sumter County Farmers Federation President Pat Buck. “We know it existed before 1960, because the minutes say officers were re-elected, so it had to have been active in 1959.”
Emelle, a settlement in Sumter County with about 50 residents, is a stone’s throw from the Mississippi border, and the town doubles in size for four months during the summer.
“It’s gone from having 30 members and barbecues from May to October, to now we have them May through August,” Buck said. “Every year we rotate like a clock, so this year I’m serving in June, and next year I’ll serve in July.”
Buck said they capped membership at 20 in order to have a balanced number, with each member paying dues to cover the cost of hosting for the year. Each member is allowed to bring two guests, and the hosts for the month can invite four guests.
“You have to have some type of connection to Emelle to be in the club,” she said. “Take my son, for instance. He splits time between here and Tuscaloosa, but he’s a member because he grew up here.”
As a testament to that philosophy, Tuscaloosa resident and Emelle native Justin Smith is able to expose his children to something he said made his childhood unique.
“It’s fun to come back and see our kids do what we did when we were younger,” Smith said. “It was a good upbringing and gave us a real strong nucleus of friends that we still have today. This barbecue club has meant a lot to this community—it’s a distinct tradition to this area, and it’s something that’s fun for all ages.”
Grant Buck, Sara’s son, said they once cooked up to three hogs a month, but due to costs and labor switched to Boston butts.
“We would take the hogs and slow cook them for about 20 hours,” Grant said, pointing to a roll of square metal fencing hung on a post supporting the lean-to covering the barbecue pit.
As he and others pulled pork for the gathering, he shared how the club has changed over time.
“It really started as a social event,” Grant said. “Back then, we didn’t have Facebook and all that stuff. It was the way people got together to talk about what was going on in the community, to fellowship and invite friends.”