Lessons of Blood Done Sign My Name

Source: by Michael J. Solender | Like The Dew

Author, historian, and professor of Christianity and southern culture at Duke University, Timothy B. Tyson cannot escape  from a definitive life changing moment he experienced as a ten-year-old growing up in Granville County, North Carolina. There he was witness to a turning point in the racially charged southern small town of Oxford. Like many such southern communities in the period immediately following the civil rights movement of the mid-to-late 1960s, Oxford residents were grappling with what the future of race would look like in their hometown.

The racially motivated murder of Henry Marrow, a black serviceman returning from Vietnam, and subsequent acquittal of the white businessman and his sons accused of the crime in 1972 led Tyson to write a paper in 1982 as a freshman history major in college. This paper became the basis for scholarly research and his Master’s thesis while in graduate school at Duke University. His manuscript went on to become a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist and national best seller, Blood Done Sign My Name (Three Rivers Press).

As a certified Yankee from Minneapolis, my southern history is not all that it should be. I’m embarrassingly ignorant of much knowledge of the civil rights era and how it was experienced south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I sat spellbound earlier this month, listening to a spirited discussion following a local showing of Steve Crump’s fine documentary Lessons From The Lunch Counter at Charlotte’s Main Library as part of their recognition of Black History Month.

The  documentary chronicled the legendary Greensboro, NC sit ins and the accompanying civil disobedience and economic boycotts by Black Americans of White establishments. The film was engaging though it was the discussion that followed that I found truly fascinating.  Several members in the audience had attended North Carolina A & T State University and sat in protest, spelling the original four at the infamous Woolworth Lunch counter that now sits at the Smithsonian.

Youthful members of the audience had the opportunity to engage directly with the elder Black leaders of “the movement” and react in wonder at just how far things had come in only one generation. One elder states-person admonished those in the audience to “never forget” and use lessons and documentation from the period to continually bring the message home for subsequent generations.

Enter the new film based upon Tyson’s book, Blood Done Sign My Name. Independent filmmaker Jeb Stuart has made Tyson’s book into a thoughtful, revealing portrayal that may leave southerners from that generation questioning similar events from their own not-so-distant past and younger people, personally unfamiliar with these pages of American history, wondering if things were really “that bad.”

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