In Blood Done Sign My Name the death of Henry Marrow is conveyed to the ten-year old Timothy Tyson with the words "Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a n*****." Timothy Tyson tells his first-hand experience of the story of the murder of this African-American
Vietnam veteran in the late spring of 1970 in Oxford, North Carolina. Tyson tells us what happens as the small town deals with the murder, the marches, the bombings, the trial, and the acquittal of those who killed Henry Marrow. As an eight year old growing up in the state capitol of Raleigh I was unaware of what was going on just an hour north of my universe in Granville county. Later, my first appointment as a pastor was to two United Methodist Churches about ten miles from Oxford. David Graybeal taught me at Drew University that a pastor has to "pay attention to the community." I wish I had Tyson's book in hand as I cared for God's people who lived along the Vance-Granville county line.
Tyson unfolds his story from several directions. First, he is the rebellious son of Vernon Tyson, the pastor of the Oxford Methodist Church. This puts him in position to run around as the preacher’s kid in some circles even as he learns from other friends where and how to sneak a smoke. Tyson seems bent on proving that everything you have heard about preacher’s kids is true … and he has the scars and tales to prove it.
Second, Tyson’s family’s legacy of ministry within the North Carolina Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church is colorfully (and sometimes painfully) told. Vernon followed my grandfather at one of his earliest appoinements and the stories helped illuminate the shadowy memories of my own history. Tyson’s sister Boo is a friend from my journey through church youth events and this book revealed at least a portion of the courage I have come to respect in her life and ministry.
Third, Tyson is a historian. This work began as an academic piece written while he was in graduate school at Duke University. The gold from his early diggings is revealed as he spins the larger journey of the racial struggle in North Carolina. Tyson names names of key political figures I grew up with and he knows where many of the bodies are buried. Ken Mehlman, Repulican National Committee chairman, recently told the annual convention of the NAACP that the "southern strategy" used by the Repulican party to garner votes by focusing on racial wedge issues was "wrong" (see The Washington Post, July 14, 2005). Reading Blood Done Sign My Name will help you understand what Mehlman is apologizing for (accepting the apology is another matter altogether. By the way, Democrats would do well to pay attention to the numerous faults laid bare by this book as well).
Tyson is a masterful storyteller. His descent as a teenager disillusioned with the hypocrisy of the white community’s response to the cries for justice from African-Americans is a painful trip softened only by Tyson’s self-deprecating humor. I found myself rooting for him as he then found himself by following the advice of Bernice Johnson Reagon who sang that when you are "moving through life, you find yourself lost, then go back to the last place where you knew who you were, and what you were doing, and start from there" (page 288). The story of grace, the restoration of a soul to God’s created purpose, is one of the real treasures of this book.