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

Overview - "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger."
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.


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More About Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson; Timothy B. Tyson

"Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger."
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.
On May 11, 1970, Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old black veteran, walked into a crossroads store owned by Robert Teel, a rough man with a criminal record and ties to the Ku Klux Klan, and came out running. Teel and two of his sons chased Marrow, beat him unmercifully, and killed him in public as he pleaded for his life. In the words of a local prosecutor: "They shot him like you or I would kill a snake."
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, led by 22-year-old Ben Chavis, a future president of the NAACP. As mass protests crowded the town square, a cluster of returning Vietnam veterans organized what one termed "a military operation." While lawyers battled in the courthouse that summer in a drama that one termed "a Perry Mason kind of thing," the Ku Klux Klan raged in the shadows and black veterans torched the town's tobacco warehouses.
With large sections of the town in flames, Tyson's father, the pastor of Oxford's all-white Methodist church, pressed his congregation to widen their vision of humanity and pushed the town to come to terms with its bloody racial history. In the end, however, the Tyson family was forced to move away.
Years later, historian Tim Tyson returned to Oxford to ask Robert Teel why he and his sons had killed Henry Marrow. "That nigger committed suicide, coming in here wanting to four-letter-word my daughter-in-law," Teel explained.
The black radicals who burned much of Oxford also told Tim their stories. "It was like we had a cash register up there at the pool hall, just ringing up how much money we done cost these white people," one of them explained. "We knew if we cost 'em enough goddamn money they was gonna start changing some things."
In the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird, Blood Done Sign My Name is a classic work of conscience, a defining portrait of a time and place that we will never forget. Tim Tyson's riveting narrative of that fiery summer and one family's struggle to build bridges in a time of destruction brings gritty blues truth, soaring gospel vision, and down-home humor to our complex history, where violence and faith, courage and evil, despair and hope all mingle to illuminate America's enduring chasm of race.
From the Hardcover edition.

  • 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...


"Admirable and unexpected...a riveting story that will have his readers weeping with both laughter and sorrow." - Chicago Tribune

"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

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