I only met Rosa Parks once, back in 1996 when I accompanied my friend Tim Tyson to Robert Williams' funeral in Monroe, N.C. At the request of the Williams family, Tim and Ms. Parks both gave moving eulogies to the great civil rights leader who had a poet's soul and stood up to the Ku Klux Klan with guns.
All winter my friend Tom Earnhardt sends me photographs of the birds at Pungo Lake, in the Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge in Washington County-- tundra swans and snow geese and countless thousands of migratory ducks-- green-winged teal, widgeons, pintails, spoonbills and many others.
Another documentary film that really excites me is called “Farewell Ferris Wheel.” Written and directed by Jamie Sisley and my sister Elaine’s incredibly talented nephew, Miguel ‘M.i.G.” Martinez, it’s the story of the Mexican workers that legally come to the U.S. for 8 months every year under special temporary visas to work in the traveling carnival and fair industry.
Tonight I watched a powerful documentary on an important but little known chapter in North Carolina’s history: the 1978 sanitation workers strike in Rocky Mount. In a generous-hearted, thoughtful and sincere way, the sanitation workers tell their own story in this public access TV documentary that deserves a much wider showing.
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.
A friend sent me a new book called A Bound Woman is a Dangerous Thing: The Incarceration of African American Women from Harriet Tubman to Sandra Bland. The author is a black poet, scholar and Air Force veteran named DaMaris B. Hill and her book—her soul stirring and deeply moving book— is part poetry, part history and part memoir.
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.
Thirty years ago, Lu Ann Jones and Amy Glass wrote one of my favorite books on the history of the Outer Banks: “Everyone Helped His Neighbor": Memories of Nags Head Woods. Long out of print, the book is now available again, thanks to its original publisher, The Nature Conservancy, and to its new distributor, the University of North Carolina Press.
This brave, unforgettable, and incredibly important book hits close to home. While the book’s stories of sexual assault survivors come from colleges across the U.S., a striking number are from right here in North Carolina, including those of the book’s two young editors, Annie E. Clark and Andrea L. Pino.
Karin Zipf’s Bad Girls at Samarcand is an enlightening book, but also a frightening one. It gives a terrifying look at the history of how the state of North Carolina has treated some of its most vulnerable children over the last century: those girls denied love at home, traumatized by incest and rape, living on the streets or scorned for being somehow “different.”
Last week was Ella Baker Day in Littleton, North Carolina. This one-stoplight town in Halifax County, 70 miles from Raleigh, was the childhood home of that extraordinary African American woman who became one of the most important civil rights activists in U.S. history. I wish you all could have been there. Her hometown’s first annual celebration in her honor was the kind of event that made me proud to be from North Carolina.