Review

Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story

by Timothy B. Tyson



In BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME, a young Vietnam veteran is killed in
his home neighborhood, as suddenly as a summer storm, in an
incident that provoked a conflagration of violence and hatred that
has yet to be tamped back into the southern soil from which it
sprang.


Dickie Marrow lay helpless on the ground pleading for his life
while three men beat him senseless with fists, feet and the butt of
a rifle. Then someone cried, "Shoot the son of a bitch!" and one
man fired a shot into Dickie's brain. There were witnesses. None of
the perpetrators were questioned by the police until at least 48
hours after the occurrence, and people who voluntarily --- and at
some danger to themselves --- offered to give testimony to the
police immediately afterwards had to wait until they finally left
the station. Dickie Marrow was black, his assailants white. The
year was 1970, nearly ten years after civil rights was supposed to
be a done deal in Oxford, North Carolina.


The author, Tim Tyson (Professor of Afro-American Studies,
University of Wisconsin), was a kid living in Oxford when the crime
happened. His father was a well-known Methodist minister, which put
him in the middle of the maelstrom, as everyone tried to cope with
the tragic cruelty of one man's death, and the marches, speeches
and fire-bombings that followed. Whites retreated behind stately
porches; the Klan came in to make a statement about what would
happen to anyone who tried to go up against the men who had
committed the murder; and the blacks of the town, finally tired of
waiting for the rights they had been guaranteed, ran amok.


Years later, never able to wrest free from the ghosts of this
significant piece of his past, Tyson went back to Oxford as a
student putting together an academic explication of the events.
Remarkably he was given passage to interview many of the
participants including the presumptive killer, a man full of the
rage of broken promises. Championed by the white supremacist
majority at the time of Marrow's slaughter, he was quickly dropped
once the trial was decided in his favor, and in the favor of the
old guard. Tyson also got into the backrooms and barrooms where the
Molotov cocktails had been manufactured, and into the heads of the
young angry blacks who set them off, admittedly responsible for
millions of dollars in damage to the town.


Tyson traces his own family history, and that of the killers and
the victim, drawing the lines that intersected and diverged as
white liberals like his father tried to find common Christian cause
with the oppressed and tormented African Americans whose culture
they shared. Ultimately, there was no meeting place for the
players, though a distant goodwill was always maintained beyond the
barricades.


Whites couldn't and didn't understand the multi-generational
frustration of families like that of Ben Chavis, cousin of the
victim and renowned activist with a reputation for encouraging
young blacks to set fires when dialogue dried up and the courts
offered no hope for change. A founding member of the Chavis family
had been a soldier in the American Revolution, a free black who was
reputedly murdered by a white terrorist for the sin of teaching
white and black children in the same classes. From such a destiny a
family cannot back away, though it may lead to a surfeit of wrong
deeds for right reasons.


BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME is a primer for understanding the currents
and the undercurrents of the Civil Rights movement: the quixotic
hopes of the feeble left, the self-destructive anger of the young,
and the aftermath --- changes for the better, changes for the
worse, and no real sense of closure on either side. Tyson makes as
heroic an effort as anyone could to find redemptive truth through
an intelligent cataloging of the complex and distressing facts of
the case. In so doing, we are all condemned, and we are all
exonerated. In his justification for concentrating so much of his
creative life on the examination of the murder of Dickie Marrow,
Tyson states, "We are runaway slaves from our own past, and only by
turning to face the hounds can we find our freedom beyond
them."


   














Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on December 22, 2010

Blood Done Sign My Name: A True Story
by Timothy B. Tyson

  • Publication Date: May 18, 2004
  • Genres: Autobiography, History, Nonfiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Crown
  • ISBN-10: 0609610589
  • ISBN-13: 9780609610589