Those words, whispered to ten-year-old Tim Tyson by one of his playmates in the late spring of 1970, heralded a firestorm that would forever transform the small tobacco market town of Oxford, North Carolina. Read more...
- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: May 2004
From the book
"Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." That's what Gerald Teel said to me in my family's driveway in Oxford, North Carolina, on May 12, 1970. We were both ten years old. I was bouncing a basketball. The night before, a black man had "said something" at the store to Judy, his nineteen-year-old sister-in-law, Gerald told me, and his father and two of his brothers had run him out of the store and shot him dead. The man's name was Henry Marrow, I found out later, but his family called him Dickie. He was killed in public as he lay on his back, helpless, begging for his life.
I was stunned and bewildered, as if Gerald had informed me that his family had fried up their house cat and eaten it for breakfast. We did not use that word at our house. It was not that I had never heard it or had never used it myself. But somehow the children in my family knew that to utter that word in the presence of my father would be to say good-bye to this earthly life. My daddy was a Methodist minister, an "Eleanor Roosevelt liberal," he called himself in later years, and at our house "nigger" was not just naughty, like "hell" or "damn." It was evil, like taking the Lord's name in vain, maybe even worse. And now my friend Gerald was using it while talking about his daddy and his brothers killing a man.
Before Gerald could say anything more, my mother opened the front door of our house and called me in for supper. "What are we having?" I yelled back at her.
"I am not announcing my menu to the neighborhood," Mama said in a clear but quiet voice. I hurried inside, dumbstruck, wondering what the grown-ups in my world were going to say about Gerald's news. Could this be true? Or was it just a little boy's boasting? Mama and Daddy would know.
Mama wielded an abundantly sharp sense of how things were and were not done. That was why she was "not about to advertise my dinner menu up and down Hancock Street," as she reminded me when I came into the kitchen. Pork chops, mashed potatoes and gravy, peppery cabbage simmered with fatback, and crisp fried cornbread served with sweet iced tea seemed no cause for shame. Mrs. Roseanna Allen, the black woman who worked for us, had also made us a chocolate pie that afternoon, as she often did when I begged her. But the details of our supper were beside Mama's point. Yelling like that was "tacky," a label that applied to a disquieting number of my habits.
I figured that Mama and Daddy would talk to us about what had happened, but instead an eerie hush hung over the supper table. Somewhat oddly, Daddy refrained from his custom of interviewing us one by one about our day. He and Mama exchanged knowing words and weighted glances whose meanings were indecipherable to me. My twelve-year-old brother, Vern, and I talked halfheartedly about something--how fast Dudley Barnes, who pitched for A&W Root Beer's Little League nine, could throw a baseball, something like that. But a deep silence had fallen among us.
After supper, my little sister Boo and I crept out of the house and down to the corner, where we huddled on the sidewalk behind Mrs. Garland's cement wall, across the street from the Teel house. Boo was seven years old, blond and freckly, by turns deferential and officious in the way of little sisters, and she went wherever I did, provided I let her. In the Bible, Ruth tells Naomi, "Entreat me not to leave thee; or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge," and while this was frequently quoted as a tribute to filial devotion, I always noted that we never heard from Naomi on the point. When I came home from church one Sunday and announced that I...
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"Blood Done Sign My Name is a most important book and one of the most powerful meditations on race in America that I have ever read." - Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Pulses with vital paradox . . . It's a detached dissertation, a damning dark-night-of-the-white-soul, and a ripping yarn, all united by Tyson's powerful voice, a brainy, booming Bubba profundo." - Entertainment Weekly
"If you want to read only one book to understand the uniquely American struggle for racial equality and the swirls of emotion around it, this is it." - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Engaging and frequently stunning." - San Diego Union-Tribune