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Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story Hardcover – May 18, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

When he was but 10 years old, Tim Tyson heard one of his boyhood friends in Oxford, N.C. excitedly blurt the words that were to forever change his life: "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger!" The cold-blooded street murder of young Henry Marrow by an ambitious, hot-tempered local businessman and his kin in the Spring of 1970 would quickly fan the long-flickering flames of racial discord in the proud, insular tobacco town into explosions of rage and street violence. It would also turn the white Tyson down a long, troubled reconciliation with his Southern roots that eventually led to a professorship in African-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison--and this profoundly moving, if deeply troubling personal meditation on the true costs of America's historical racial divide. Taking its title from a traditional African-American spiritual, Tyson skillfully interweaves insightful autobiography (his father was the town's anti-segregationist Methodist minister, and a man whose conscience and human decency greatly informs the son) with a painstakingly nuanced historical analysis that underscores how little really changed in the years and decades after the Civil Rights Act of 1965 supposedly ended racial segregation. The details are often chilling: Oxford simply closed its public recreation facilities rather than integrate them; Marrow's accused murderers were publicly condemned, yet acquitted; the very town's newspaper records of the events--and indeed the author's later account for his graduate thesis--mysteriously removed from local public records. But Tyson's own impassioned personal history lessons here won't be denied; they're painful, yet necessary reminders of a poisonous American racial legacy that's so often been casually rewritten--and too easily carried forward into yet another century by politicians eagerly employing the cynical, so-called "Southern Strategy." --Jerry McCulley

From Publishers Weekly

In this outstanding personal history, Tyson, a professor of African-American studies who's white, unflinchingly examines the civil rights struggle in the South. The book focuses on the murder of a young black man, Henry Marrow, in 1970, a tragedy that dramatically widened the racial gap in the author's hometown of Oxford, N.C. Tyson portrays the killing and its aftermath from multiple perspectives, including that of his contemporary, 10-year-old self; his progressive Methodist pastor father, who strove to lead his parishioners to overcome their prejudices; members of the disempowered black community; one of the killers; and his older self, who comes to Oxford with a historian's eye. He also artfully interweaves the history of race relations in the South, carefully and convincingly rejecting less complex and self-serving versions ("violence and nonviolence were both more ethically complicated-and more tightly intertwined-than they appeared in most media accounts and history books"). A gifted writer, he celebrates a number of inspirational unsung heroes, ranging from his father to a respected elderly schoolteacher who spoke out at a crucial point to quash a white congregation's rebellion over an invitation to a black minister. Tyson's avoidance of stereotypes and simple answers brings a shameful recent era in our country's history to vivid life. This book deserves the largest possible audience. FYI:Tyson's last book, Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (1999), won the James Rawley Prize and was co-winner of the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown; 1St Edition edition (May 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0609610589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0609610589
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (108 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #389,541 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Timothy B. Tyson is Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Visiting Professor of American Christianity and Southern Culture at Duke Divinity School, and adjunct professor of American Studies at the University of North Carolina. Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (1999) won the James Rawley Prize for best book on race and the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in U.S. History from the Organization of American Historians. Blood Done Sign My Name (2004) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, won the Southern Book Award for Nonfiction and the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, among others. He serves on the executive board of the North Carolina NAACP.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 91 people found the following review helpful By Harold Barker on March 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I learned about Blood Done Sign My Name in June 2005. I always wondered if anyone had told the story that changed my view of life in just two days.

In August 1970, I was a young photographer on the weekend shift at the Raleigh News and Observer. An assignment came in to meet a reporter in a small town north of Raleigh. No details. Just meet the reporter.

When I got into Oxford, the reporter told me a man would soon be testifying in a murder trial and that he needed a photo of that man. I parked across from the Courthouse. I put a 200 mm lens on my Nikon motor drive and waited. Soon a police vehicle pulled up with a single man in the back. As the man exited the car, I climbed out and got ready to make the picture.

As luck would have it, the man had a newspaper covering his face. He walked a few steps, dropped the paper, and looked straight at me. I took the photo and got out of town.

The next morning, I was ordered to return to Oxford. Big mistake. The photo of the third killer appeared on front page on the local newstands, and this did not go well with the locals. The verdict came and the streets emptied. I took a last photograph as a line of police officers passed me on the street. Moments later they were back surrounding me. One pulled a knife and poked me in the stomach. The older man with the knife started to tell me I was at my end. I don't know what made me say I only made $2.00 an hour. The redneck just looked at me and said I was an idiot to risk my life for $2.00 and I agreed. They let me go.

Shortly afterward, I got to my car and hit the road south. A group of locals followed me in a truck while I was flat out in my Ford Pinto. I laugh these days when I think about that longhair photographer being chased down the highway at full speed.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Karen Franklin on February 28, 2007
Format: Paperback
At first glance, this is a historical account of the racial tumult unleashed by the 1970 killing of a black man in Oxford, North Carolina. The author, 11 years old at the time, was profoundly affected. Not only did he witness the burning of the town's infrastructure of tobacco warehouses, but his Methodist minister father was drummed out of town for preaching against racial segregation. But this story is about more than one town, or one event and its aftermath. Tyson uses Oxford as a microcosm to examine the complex history of race relations in the South. As the narrative meanders along in the circuitous and philosophical style of the Southern storyteller, Tyson proceeds to ever-deeper levels of meaning and buried history.

As someone who shares Tyson's roots in rural North Carolina, I find it particularly important to rediscover "the other South" - the South that has been systematically expunged from history. Tyson discusses the banished history of white resistance to slavery and racial segregation during the Civil War and Reconstruction. How many of us know about the "Red Strings," a secret society of anti-Confederate guerrillas and saboteurs in North Carolina? Tyson briefly recounts perhaps the most important historical event in North Carolina, the 1898 massacre of African Americans in Wilmington that overthrew Reconstruction there (and about which Tyson has also written a separate book). As Tyson lucidly explains, white supremacists and neo-Confederates have ignored all evidence to the contrary to make "enthusiasm for the Confederacy posthumously unanimous." This rewriting of history is profoundly personal for Tyson.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Charles Hughes on May 21, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME, Timothy Tyson details the triumph and the shame inherent in American history, with no quarter given to any assumptions or preconcieved notions. Interweaving his stirring personal narrative with an often disturbing, yet ultimately enriching, examination of the freedom struggle in North Carolina and beyond, Tyson spares no one - not even himself or his family - of his hard and direct analysis. Thus, BLOOD acts as a striking blow against our gauzy reminiscing about the Civil Rights Movement, while simultaneously reminding us of the true value of that movement and the people within it (as well as a reminder that the work isn't nearly done). Tyson's urgent tone is consistent with William Faulkner's assertion that the past "isn't even past," nor was it a series of easily achieved inevitabilities. Funny, brash, unflinching, BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME is the best kind of American non-fiction, one which travels on both sides of a road that, to quote an old bluegrass song, is often mighty dark to travel. A secular sermon of the highest order, helping us to better understand ourselves and leading us to fellowship.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Marie GG on June 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This extremely well-written memoir/nonfiction book about a horrible, racially motivated killing in N. Carolina illustrates the author's coming of age in the American South. As a professor in African-American history, the book is grounded in thorough research and historical context. I was even impressed by bibliography at the end of the book. This man has done his research and documented it well.
Tyson not only writes about the tragic event that changed his life (and the history of his hometown) when he was 10, but he also shares some of the history of the Black Freedom movement and the history of his own family, and the way it has affected him throughout his life.
What I thought was particularly interesting was how the U.S. has sanitized the history of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in particular. When he was killed, Ronald Reagan actually had the gall to imply that he brought it on himself because of his lack of respect for law and order, and he accused the anti-war protestors for the assasination!
I was particularly touched by the stories about Tyson's amazing parents and feisty relatives, and others who stood up for justice and compassion. Tyson also writes openly about his angst and struggles to come to grips with his own prejudices.
I will recommend this book to everyone I know--I believe that it's a book that every American needs to read, to better understand the history of race relations in this country and how far we have yet to go.
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