Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Eastern North Carolina’s embarrassment

There’s so much to love about my native Eastern North Carolina. Driving through the sweet “dog tongue” flower-scented countryside to Greenville recently reminded me why the area’s most famous cheerleader – internationally respected Chef Vivian Howard – calls the flat, freshly planted fields flanking two-lane roads here, “my Tuscany, my Provence.”

At first glance, that seems a bit of a reach. There’s a depressing amount of rusted-through, abandoned farm equipment in some of these fields and way too many worn-out, windowless trailer homes. But Howard’s loyalty has paid off. She is the best possible illustration of the Southern grandmother’s admonition to “bloom where you’re planted.” Raised on a farm in tiny Deep Run, N.C., Howard stayed the course until the world came to her (farm) door, hungry for food from a region best known for coaxing flavor in abundance from unpretentious greens and beans.

The people here are as solid and unvarnished as the heart-pine pews they occupy two or three times a week, depending on prayer meeting and planting times.

I love them. They are my people. They are the ones who would see I didn’t have enough money at the country store for a little Coke AND a crazy big Jack’s butter cookie and softly said “put it on my bill” with a wink to the clerk.

You never forget childhood kindnesses. You do try to pay them forward when fortune has smiled on you in the form of lawn-mowing money. “Let me get that…”

I want you to understand Eastern North Carolina is more than what you saw on the TV and have seen every day since that Trump rally in Greenville.


The chant, mouthed by grinning men and women and a few children who didn’t look completely sure of who “she was exactly, has been dissected by the left and the right, lampooned by the late-nights and left the land that I love in tatters.

Trump visibly preened once the chant took hold. I imagine it exceeded his hopes, this “lock her up” 2.0. The next day, there was predictable blowback (was he seriously endorsing this flat-out racist chant against a member of Congress?), he did a brief walk-back, then, the day after that, doubled-down. How many times have we seen this tired “10 on the tomatometer” movie?

This time, though, it was personal.

Trump’s rally in Greenville—home of East Carolina University, where Sandra Bullock studied acting—was an ugly affirmation that fear is in control now.

Fear of people who aren’t white, rural, Christian.


The chant was deafening but that’s no surprise. That’s what you do when you’re afraid—you scream.

I want you to understand a lot of us here in Eastern North Carolina are deeply ashamed of that ignorant chant and everything it means. We’re embarrassed by the endless video clips from the Greenville rally. The sheer hatefulness of it all. And we hope that, next year, this presidency, corrosive as a rusty cultivator, will be put out to pasture.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times bestselling author and columnist. Visit

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