The Comforts of Tradition and Ritual
Riverton, ancestral home of poet John Charles McNeill and historian Gerald Johnson, near Wagram in Scotland county, is not a “place but a state of mind.” Tradition abounds in this tiny Scottish settlement on the banks of the Lumbee River. Riverton Nights, held regularly, resemble the original ceileidhs of the Scottish Highlands where everyone has an opportunity to perform. McNeill expressed his joy in the activities of summer on the banks of the river in his poem “Sunburnt Boys.” While serving as a Baptist missionary to China, McNeill's cousin, Dr. Hudson McMillan, was imprisoned in a concentration camp when Mao Zedong brought communists into power. From his cell, he wrote journal accounts of Riverton Nights and prayer meetings in Scotland County, recalling those boyhood pleasures, using the format which remains unchanged to this day. In this presentation Dr. Mary Wayne Watson focuses on traditions associated with the “old country” still seen in the region.
Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at Nash Community College, great niece of John Charles McNeill, Mary Wayne Watson received her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and her MA from UNC-Chapel Hill. She decided to create the John Charles McNeill seminar at the urging of her childhood neighbor in Wagram (Scotland County), who pressed her to present a reading to a small group of John Charles McNeill devotees. The reading was so well received that it seemed fitting for her, as McNeill’s great niece, to continue to spread the word, to carry the torch. After all, her parents and their generation who had kept McNeill’s work alive were now dead. Creating this presentation motivated Dr. Watson to look further into the landscape and traditions that were common to both McNeill and historian Gerald W. Johnson. Watson has taught English at all levels of public education, including middle and high school in NC and Virginia; James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, and now at Nash Community College in Rocky Mount. She teaches English composition, research writing, American and British literature, and film.
Funded project of the North Carolina Humanities Council, a state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities.