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Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson

Blood Done Sign My Name

by Timothy B. Tyson

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In Blood Done Sign My Name, Timothy B. Tyson examines the murder of Henry Marrow, a twenty-three year old black man, in Oxford, South Carolina, on 11 May 1970. The book combines both historical research about race relations during the late 1960s, in which Tyson attempts to dispel popular myths of civil rights, with Tyson’s own memory of growing up in Oxford and the racial caste system in the town. Tyson concludes of the period and its legacy, “Everyone in this struggle, adversaries and advocates alike, grew up steeped in a poisonous white supremacy that distorted their understandings of history and one another. That history is not distant” (pg. 320). He argues that Americans cannot gloss over the more complex parts of this history in favor of a simplified narrative as this does an injustice to history and those who lived it.
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 in 1963, 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. ( )
  DarthDeverell | Apr 18, 2017 |
One of the most powerful civil rights books I've read! Excellently written, informative and, at times difficult to read, this is an incredible book!

In the month of May and the year of 1970, Henry Marrow was black, 23, a veteran, and had the misfortune of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Accused of making a comment to a white woman, all too soon, he was face down in the dirt, battered by the butt of a gun while three white men decided his fate was to die.

The author was ten years old when living in a small southern town. The incident haunted him, and years later the result was this book.

Civil rights did not suddenly occur because Martin Luther King and others led the parade. It was a slow, squeeky, violent process in the south. The law was not on the black persons side. Whites could indeed kill and get away with it.

While during the years of slavery, white men often used their black slaves as sex objects, the resulting child born of these assignations, was deemed unfree. Thus, securing a steady population of slaves for the white man. Never, though in deep south was it ok for a black man to have a relationship with a white woman. The result is death, sometimes by lynching.

This is a must read for those interested in American history. ( )
  Whisper1 | Oct 20, 2015 |
This is one of my absolute favorite books. It is gripping and informative. One of the few novels I require my history students to read (they usually get a choice of novels). They invariably read ahead and then thank me for making them read it. ( )
  EllsbethB | May 9, 2015 |
Really good memoir. I'll add more later, but in the meantime, here's a interesting piece of information:

In 1662, the Virginia legislature passed a law that read, "Children got by an Englishman upon a Negro woman shall be bond or free according to the condition of the mother." Seems otherwise innocuous, but this statute reversed English common law under which the status of the child frollowed that of the father.

The implications were huge. It meant that slave owners could impregnate as many slave women as they wanted secure in the knowledge that the children that resulted would become their property, increasing their wealth and slave population. This provided a huge incentive for white men to sleep with their slave women.

This intertwined sex and race and led to the powerful taboo of black men marrying or even looking at a white woman. The long-term result of this taboo was the epidemic of the lynching of black men.
( )
  ecw0647 | Sep 30, 2013 |
This book doesn't hide the truth about what happened after integration in North Carolina and around the south, it shares the actual truth with the world, something that desperately needs doing in a time when people have forgotten just how long it takes to make changes to the background of hate. I got this book because it is local history for me, I couldn't put it down because it was so captivating and honest. I found the historical slavery connection to the more recent racism a fascinating insight to exactly why it was that so many people I have known in my life had been unable to let go of their various prejudices in the past. It has made me a little more forgiving of their situation, if not their reasoning and has helped me to see so much of history in a totally different light. Connecting the past to the future isn't new, but hearing it here made it seem remarkable.

The author's writing style is captivating and has found a way to bring such deep emotion into history that it would seem a miracle itself. So often we read about what was and nod our heads, file the information away as sad and move on, but rarely do we find ourselves experiencing the anguish that happened in another time right where we were sitting, reading about it. Even the most logical notion hits home in the heart when reading Tyson's account of what went on around him when he was young and how it created what he is today. People of every color are tied together in this earth and in this story, which is equally about freedom and the unjust death of a local man as it is about the author's life and family history.

I simply can't say enough about this book or how it is written. If I were able, I would pass out copies to everyone I know. ( )
  mirrani | Jul 4, 2013 |
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"Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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A very good book but a difficult read. Similar to the Tulsa race riot, mysteriously removed from local public records.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0609610589, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:01 -0400)

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From the Publisher: "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." Those words, whispered to ten-year-old Tim Tyson by a playmate, heralded a firestorm that would forever transform the tobacco market town of Oxford, North Carolina. On May 11, 1970, Henry Marrow, a twenty-three-year-old black veteran, walked into a crossroads store owned by Robert Teel and came out running. Teel and two of his sons chased and beat Marrow, then killed him in public as he pleaded for his life. Like many small Southern towns, Oxford had barely been touched by the civil rights movement. But in the wake of the killing, young African Americans took to the streets. While lawyers battled in the courthouse, the Klan raged in the shadows and black Vietnam veterans torched the town's tobacco warehouses. Tyson's father, the pastor of Oxford's all-white Methodist church, urged the town to come to terms with its bloody racial history. In the end, however, the Tyson family was forced to move away. Tim Tyson's riveting narrative of that fiery summer brings gritty blues truth, soaring gospel vision, and down-home humor to a shocking episode of our history. Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Blood Done Sign My Name is a classic portrait of an unforgettable time and place.… (more)

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