For decades, the Jack Roach Indian Medicine Show wandered the backroads of the North Carolina coast.
Harlowe Canal Diary
In the Small Town Where I Grew Up
A year before I was born, in the small town where I grew up, three African American children walked into my future elementary school while a line of U.S. Marines with rifles watched over them.
“We Returned Home to our Enemies”: Black Marines and the Struggle for Racial Equality at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station
On the 23rd of May, 1963, Corporal Bernard Shaw, a 23-year-old black Marine, sent an extraordinary letter to the commanding general of the Second Marine Air Wing and to other senior officers at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock, North Carolina.
The Lighters at Clubfoot Creek
My friend Betty Motes recently told me a story about a flotilla of boatmen and their families that used to come from the shipyards of Camden, New Jersey, and spend their winters on Clubfoot Creek.
Why I Love Wonder Bread
One look at an old photograph and suddenly I was three years old again and standing on the side of Hwy. 101, near the turn to Mrs. Kay Wright's farm, and I was stepping up into a Wonder Bread delivery truck.
My Grandmother’s Fruitcake
I came to making fruitcakes late in life. One fall morning, maybe 15 or 20 years ago, I woke up craving a slice of my grandmother Vera’s fruitcake. My grandmother, Vera Sabiston Bell, lived in an old farmhouse in a little community called Harlowe in Carteret County, N.C.
A Family Story from WWI
All these years later, Ed Pond and I are friends, brought together by a mutual interest in Down East's history and by an act of kindness a century ago on the battlefields of France.
The Godette Hotel: Will Beaufort’s Historic Green Book Hotel be Destroyed?
At the corner of Pollock and Cedar Street in this lovely historic town on the North Carolina coast, the Godette Hotel is a forgotten African American historical landmark that could have come straight out of the Academy Award-winning movie Green Book. Now the Town of Beaufort is making plans to demolish the hotel. “Why,” town councilman Charles McDonald asks, “are they trying to destroy all the black history in the community?”
The Wild Plums at Core Creek– or, In Praise of Slow Cooking
I wrote this piece 22 years ago when my children were little. It seems a little dated today in some ways, but not in the most important ways, and I thought it might make a nice gift for today-- reading it now certainly reminds me of how much I have to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving!
Ricky Moore’s Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook
Chef Ricky Moore's new cookbook is out and I think he's written the finest seafood cookbook you’ve ever seen and probably ever will see if you’re like me and love the flavors of the North Carolina coast.
“A Legal Way to Steal Land”—A New Yorker Exposé Hits Close to Home
Yesterday The New Yorker magazine published an extraordinary piece of investigative journalism on Melvin Davis and his brother Licurtis Reels and their struggle to hold onto their family’s land in Merrimon, a historically African American fishing community in Carteret County N.C., not far from where I grew up.
The Quaker Map: From Harlowe to Mill Creek
I recently found this map in an old book called The Williams History: Tracing the Descendants in America of Robert Williams, of Ruthin, North Wales, who Settled in Carteret County, North Carolina, in 1763. The map describes a largely forgotten group of Quaker settlements that flourished on the North Carolina coast more than 200 years ago.
The Mermaid’s Melody
In 1895 a young mother sang this lullaby to her children while she nursed them at a church in Kinnakeet, a village on the Outer Banks. The rest of the congregation was singing “Come Thou Fount of Many Blessings,” but she must have stepped into the back of the church to soothe her two little ones. It’s not the kind of moment that usually makes it into history books.
The Swedish Nightingale
Last night I saw a scene on PBS’s drama Victoria in which the Swedish opera star Jenny Lind sang for Queen Victoria. That was an actual event: it happened on April 26, 1846. But of course I thought immediately of the little community called “Jenny Lind” that is located 10 miles west of Kinston, in Lenoir County, N.C. According to legend, Jenny Lind sang there, too.
Martin Luther King, Jr. from Edenton to the Blue Ridge
Here on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I thought I’d share a historical document from one of the most famous civil rights events in American history, the campaign to end racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama-- and also talk a little about Dr. King's visits to North Carolina.
The Road to Friendship Church
All week I have been thinking about our trip to Greene County. Me, him and Tim. A summer day. The Reverend’s VW convertible. The top down. The small towns and old tobacco fields of eastern North Carolina. The wind and the sun on our faces. The joy of it all.
A Harkers Island Christmas
“I remember when the biggest joy of Christmas for me was getting to ride the mail boat over to Beaufort and just look at the five and dime and the drugstore. We'd go down on the shore, bundled up, head and ears, and the mail boat came from down at the center of the island. We'd get in the broom grass and watch for it, and they'd come pick us up.”
A Jonkunnu Christmas at Historic Stagville– this Saturday!
My daughter Vera Cecelski just told me that Historic Stagville in Durham County still has a few tickets left for its Jonkunnu Lantern Tour! The Tour will include a Jonkunnu procession featuring incredible local drummers, some amazing dancers and lots of schoolchildren and it’s this Saturday, December 8th, at 5:15 PM! You can get tickets by calling (919) 620-0120.
Annie Hooper’s Vision: From Hatteras Island to the Smithsonian
I found Annie Hooper’s masterpiece in a warehouse in a small town in eastern North Carolina: thousands of hauntingly beautiful Biblical figures made out of driftwood, seashells, putty and plaster. All of them are part of large, elaborate scenes depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments. I had been hoping to see them for decades, and when I finally found them, they were together for probably the last time.
Postcard from Tryon, N.C.: Celebrating Nina Simone
This weekend my family and I are in Tryon, N.C. and we are listening to Nina Simone. This is a small town on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and her music just seems to be in the air in this place where she was born and first learned to make music and discovered who she was.
The whole world is underwater. The places where I grew up, the places where I lived as a young man, the places I have been writing about all my life. The places where people I love live. The places that fill my dreams. Richlands and Trenton, Newport and New Bern, Wilmington and Lumberton, Engelhard, Belhaven, Washington. I am thinking about you all. I am keeping you in my prayers. I am holding you all in my heart.
Celebrating the Hyde Co. school boycott’s 50th anniversary– Engelhard, N.C.
Last Sunday, on September 2nd, my wife and I attended a wonderful celebration of the Hyde County school boycott’s 50th anniversary. We gathered in the old Davis School’s gymnasium in Engelhard, a fishing village on Far Creek and it was an unforgettable day: full of storytelling and memories, good food and much fellowship.
The Fishermen’s Cemetery
I love to walk around old graveyards. One of my favorite places to wander among the headstones is near where I grew up. The graveyard is called Oceanview Cemetery, and it’s in the little coastal town of Beaufort, N.C.
Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr. in Rocky Mount
Friday night, February 23. I am writing these words at the old Booker T. Washington High School in Rocky Mount, N.C. A very special event is happening here tonight. More than half a century ago, on November 27, 1962, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a historic speech in this school’s gymnasium, only a few feet from where I am sitting now.
Something Musical in Kinston
One of the things I like best about the Kinston Music Park is the way it doesn’t just honor the great jazz, blues, gospel, bebop, big band, rhythm and blues and hip hop artists that came out of Eastern N.C.—the park also honors the band teachers, choir directors and music educators who made that rich history of African American music possible.