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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Author’s book addresses racial violence during his youth

By Hannah Simpson

Timothy B. Tyson recently presented his book “Blood Done Sign My Name,” a story of violence and racial disputes during his youth in Oxford, N.C., at the Sampson-Livermore Library.

Timothy TysonThe book recounts the summer of 1970 when Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old black military veteran, was killed in the streets of Oxford. The murder was committed by the father of a close friend of Tyson’s, Robert Teel.

It was this event that helped begin a revolution against racial segregation.

Tyson recalled that Teel and two of his sons were charged with the murder. Teel had a criminal record and ties to the Ku Klux Klan. An all-white jury acquitted Teel, which sparked protests, a march on the capital and the burning of tobacco warehouses by black veterans.

The vision growing in the black South became the black dream for freedom, Tyson said.

“It happened everywhere, and it happened in a lot of different ways,” said Tyson.

Tyson spoke of attending a Ku Klux Klan meeting “to see what hate looked like” where he witnessed cross burnings.

Tyson said that his father, Jack, was a pastor of the First Methodist Church of Oxford. His father urged the congregation of an all-white church to create peace with the black population. Because of Jack Tyson’s request, the church forced the family to be transferred to a different church, Tyson said.

Tyson said that writing the story was a way to come to grips with his own past and life.

“I’m carrying all this cultural baggage, and you’ve given me a podium. You may be in trouble,” Tyson said.

Of the book’s impact in Tyson’s hometown, Rev. Harrison Sammons, a retired Episcopalian preacher in Oxford, said: “Oxford white people are divided into two groups: those who are mad about the book and those who have read the book.”

Tyson said his editors did not want the book to be given the published title because it sounded too black and too Southern.

“They told me I could call this book anything I wanted, as long as it wasn’t ‘Blood Done Sign My Name,’” Tyson recalled.

Tyson was accompanied by Mary Williams who sang a medley of slavery era songs. One was titled “Blood Done Sign My Name.” The audience participated in the songs by singing and clapping as Williams’ voice rang through Main Reading Room and into the lobby of the library.

“Blood Done Sign My Name” was a Book Critic’s Circle Award finalist.

A senior research scholar of documentary studies and adjunct professor at the Duke University Divinity School, Tyson has authored two other books about African American freedom.
Hannah Simpson is a first-year UNCP student, majoring in Mass Communications.

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