Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story Hardcover – May 18, 2004
|New from||Used from|
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
Customers who bought this item also bought
What other items do customers buy after viewing this item?
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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Top customer reviews
Tyson begins his narrative in Chapter One with the murder of young Henry Marrow (a Vietnam veteran), but the point of view is his as a ten year old boy, not fully understanding what was happening. The narrative is not told chronologically, and the author moves back and forward through time, discussing the case itself, southern history and his own family history, all of it interwoven though various themes (discussed below). Tyson notes, as have other authors of the era, the late 1880’s was a time when white conservatives felt threatened by black freedom and had reacted by denouncing whites who voted with blacks as race traitors and finally moved (sometimes violently) to solidify their hold on power and disenfranchise blacks. By 1970, the year of the murder, Tyson notes Oxford was unaffected by the Civil Rights Movement. Schools were still segregated as were most, (if not all) aspects of life in the town. The murder would place Oxford at ground zero in the movement for Civil Rights as blacks finally had had enough. That summer blacks attacked the hierarchy of white supremacy in reaction to the murder and then, after the accused were acquitted the movement took it a step further. A boycott of all white businesses ensued (especially devastating as blacks accounted for 40% of all shoppers) and bombings of tobacco warehouses caused millions of dollars in damage. Finally, business leaders agreed to hire blacks in positions other than as janitors, the confederate solider statue was moved to a less prominent position and schools were integrated (although many white parents moved their children to all white private “religious” schools). Finally, Tyson notes that this is the essence of the civil rights movement. The main stream narrative of the federal government riding to the rescue is false; the idea that a national movement brought about rights to black Americans is false. Instead, the fight for equality was a localized movement led by local people who simply wanted to be treated as human beings.
Tyson focuses on numerous themes throughout the work, including race and sexuality (the one way sign in the South’s interracial sex life), Christianity and race, paternalism, Black Power and Civil Rights and history and memory (to name a few). As for his sources, Tyson used not only family memory and diaries, he also used the criminal court records from Granville County and the Francis B. Hays Collection at the Richard H. Thornton Library in Oxford, NC. He also used the NAACP Papers at the Library of Congress and collections at various places throughout North Carolina, including the University of North Carolina. His primary sources also included the Raleigh News and Observer and he attempted to use the Oxford Public Ledger (although the latter is missing for most of 1970). He also used numerous secondary sources too numerous to mention.
This is a well written and well researched book and it is very difficult to put down. It is told from a first person point of view, quite rare in historical research. The strengths of the story as in its powerful arguments that the Civil Rights Movement was not successful until African Americans finally resorted to economic protest and violence as well as in the background story discussing such topics as sexuality and history and memory. The only weakness is the lack of footnotes/endnotes and the use of a bibliographical essay organized by chapter rather than a bibliography. But these criticisms do not, in any way, take away from the quality of the book or the power of the argument.
Marrow, a veteran, demonstrated the betrayal that veterans felt after fighting on behalf of the United States’ ideals. Tyson writes, “Like generations of black veterans before them, who had come home from France or the Philippines insisting that their sacrifices had bought them full citizenship, the Vietnam generation demanded justice. Though they had paid the price, more would be required” (pg. 9). Like Eugene Genovese’s "Roll, Jordan, Roll", Tyson uses paternalism to explain the race relations of the mid-twentieth century. He writes, “Paternalism was like a dance whose steps required my grandmother to provide charity to black people, as long as they followed the prescribed routine – that is, coming to the back door, hat in hand; accepting whatever largesse was offered; furnishing effusive expressions of gratitude; and at least pretending to accept their subordinate position in the social hierarchy” (pg. 25). While whites that subscribed to this system believed it represented harmony, it prevented any real connections from forming between Oxford’s white and black residents.
Like Gail Bederman and others, Tyson links race with gender, writing, “Segregation…existed to protect white womanhood from the abomination of contact with uncontrollable black men. Whites who questioned segregation confronted the inevitable and, for most people, conclusive cross-examination: Would you want your daughter to marry one?” (pg. 37). This played a key role in Marrow’s death as his murderers accused him of saying something flirtatious to a white woman. In grounding the civil rights struggle in the backdrop of the Cold War, Tyson writes, “The Cold War competition between the United States and the Soviet Union offered African Americans the unique leverage to redeem or repudiate American democracy in the eyes of the world. The demonstrations in the streets of the civil rights-era South were carefully staged dramas that forced the contradictions of American democracy to the surface” (pg. 67). This forced this issue to a head since it embarrassed the American government on the international stage.
In contradicting the traditional narrative of civil rights, Tyson writes, “Polling data revealed that the majority of white Americans <i>in 1963</i>, prior to the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, believed that the movement for racial equality had already proceeded ‘too far and too fast’” (pg. 106). Rather than accept change, white Americans were compelled by the federal government in 1964 and even then still attempted to avoid government coercion. To this end, Tyson writes, “Those who tell themselves that white people of goodwill voluntarily handed over first-class citizenship to their fellow citizens of color find comfort in selective memory and wishful thinking” (pg. 249). In addition to overturning the popular narrative of civil rights, Tyson works to combat the popular narrative of the Civil War in the South. He writes, “White supremacists and neo-Confederates have made enthusiasm for the Confederacy posthumously unanimous. Some of them will even try to tell you that the slaves loyally supported the Confederacy, which is just a damn lie” (pg. 172). Despite this lie, it demonstrates the lingering need in the South to justify the racial hierarchy established after Reconstruction.