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Publisher's Summary

The “riveting”* true story of the fiery summer of 1970, which would forever transform the town of Oxford, North Carolina - a classic portrait of the fight for civil rights in the tradition of To Kill a Mockingbird (*Chicago Tribune)

On May 11, 1970, Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old Black veteran, walked into a crossroads store owned by Robert Teel and came out running. Teel and two of his sons chased and beat Marrow, then killed him in public as he pleaded for his life. 

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. While lawyers battled in the courthouse, the Klan raged in the shadows and Black Vietnam veterans torched the town’s tobacco warehouses. Tyson’s father, the pastor of Oxford’s all-White Methodist church, urged the town to come to terms with its bloody racial history. In the end, however, the Tyson family was forced to move away.  

Tim Tyson’s gripping narrative brings gritty blues truth and soaring gospel vision to a shocking episode of our history. 

Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

“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

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

“Engaging and frequently stunning.” (San Diego Union-Tribune

©2004 Timothy B. Tyson (P)2004 Random House, Inc. Random House Audio, a divison of Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

“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)

“Engaging and frequently stunning.” (San Diego Union-Tribune)   

What listeners say about Blood Done Sign My Name

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

This Is A Very Good Book

Listening to Tyson describe the North Carolina of the 1960s, I was reminded how much the world has changed in the last half century. Ku Klux Klan rallies, widespread white supremacism, corrupt judicial systems -- that culture of hate is almost unrecognizeable today. In addition to solid history and a gripping true crime narrative, the book includes thoughtful sections on nonviolence. Tyson shows that much of the nonviolence movement of the 1960s was a myth, and that violence and physical force were necessary to change our culture. This book is filled with big ideas and big questions, but it is written in a plain style that is easy to understand. It is smart without being difficult. Highly recommended.

11 people found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars

First Person History

Dr. Tyson combines careful -- and compassionate -- research with personal experiences to display what it was like to live in Eastern North Carolina in the racial turbulent 1960s and 1970s. This is a very powerful book to hear in the intimacy of earphones.

8 people found this helpful

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About the myths Americans tell themselves

Americans love their sanitized, After-School Special version of the civil rights movement, in which we've progressed inevitably from the bad old days of slavery to the modern day where racism is just the occasional gaffe that gets a news commentator fired or a few hicks wearing sheets way off in the boonies. Tim Tyson strips away this mythology in his story of a black man who was murdered in 1970 by a violent, mean-tempered white business owner, allegedly for flirting with his daughter-in-law. Six years after the Civil Rights Act, Oxford, North Carolina was still a segregated town where white supremacy ruled, unapologetically. But when the all-white jury acquitted Robert Teal even of any lesser charge like manslaughter, the town's African American population rose up in outrage, and Oxford's businesses burned.

Decades later, Tyson, who was eleven years old at the time, and whose father was a liberal white desegregationist minister who was subsequently driven out of town, came back to interview everyone involved, including the murderer, Robert Teal. Blood Done Sign My Name is the result of that project, but it's also a look at how Americans have always lied to themselves about our country's race relations, and continue to do so to this day. Slave owners said, "Our slaves are like part of the family." In the 1990s, Tyson took a group of students to a Southern plantation that had been the site of a bloody slave uprising, and found it turned into an antebellum theme park with hardly any mention of slavery. The murder of Henry Marrow is really just a small part of this story.

This book was what became Tyson's Master's thesis, and it's powerful and engaging and contains many truths that still bear repeating, over and over.

6 people found this helpful

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Very few books have made me sob

I could not bring myself to read this book for a long, long time. As a 39 year old Black man from Reidsville, NC these horrific events occurred less than 100 miles from where I grew up and less than a decade before I was born. This book forced me to confront the fact that the horror of racism isn't something that happened in the past as the past is closer to the present than it is to history.

I escaped by the grace of God. I lead a middle class lifestyle. My parents don't speak of the past. They have locked it away. If not for books like this then the history would be lost. Losing that history would be a greater tragedy for blood done sign my name.

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent and Eloquent

Incredible and gripping account that is a well told biography, an account of a racist murder in Oxford North Carolina, and thoughtful history of American history, a history that is not taught in schools. "We want to transcend history without actually confronting it", and the past, sadly is also the present. This is a masterpiece and fully recommended.

1 person found this helpful

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Fantastic!

A must read for any native North Carolinian. A book that can change outlooks and lives.

1 person found this helpful

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So Enlighten

To hear of such a horrific and unfortunately too common story that's based out of your home state and only 2.5 hours from your home town is definitely a different read.

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Academic but irresponsible

The context for the semi-autobiography is excellent. The framing of the Southern white church/Civil-Rights-era social landscape really works well to set the story.

But I kept falling out of the story, even academically, when the author insisted on quoting figures as using “N” this and “N” that. Now, I’m an academic linguist myself, and this was beyond gratuitous. Not once did the author opt for “slung racial slurs…” No. Every few sentences saw someone using the “N” slur. No matter who said it and how often, the reader doesn’t need it this much, especially from a white writer. We get it. The word was used often. WE DON’T NEED IT THIS MUCH TO UNDERSTAND. Be an academic. Show some socio-linguistic responsibility, Mr. Southern White Scholar.

Also, I stopped reading after hearing just about enough of Teel’s point of view. WE DON’T NEED TO HEAR WORD ONE OF HIS ACCOUNT. We read a bit and think, “What a violent, racist piece of shit.” Does his perspective offer clarity or nuance? NEVER. He is human garbage, all the way through. He is EXACTLY what we think from the word go. He is a violent, racist piece of shit. THE END. WHY AM I HEARING HIS ACCOUNT IF I KNOW HE’S TRASH? It adds nothing and makes me question the author’s intent. Is he excusing Teel? This work tries too hard to be even-handed, when there is clearly a wrong side here. The author is a typical Southern academic coward. Some things are evil. Describe it as such, and stop preserving the Southern ambivalence to its violent racism, like time makes it more historical than horrifying. Typical Southern academic.

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A look into the meaning of White Privilege

Anyone looking to understand the meaning of White Privilege needs to read this book objectively. I grew up in the 60's and 70's when the n-word was still a fairly common descriptor of African Americans. As a child, I can remember the "colored maid" that my neighbor had briefly while recuperating from illness. I'm sure she rode the transit bus in her nicely starched uniform to our neighborhood of very middle class people. And I remember the "nice colored boy" that my father hired to help him on his delivery route, and how good my father felt about bringing him home for lunch, although my mother would only serve him on paper plates with paper cups.

Fast forward to present day, and here am I, the mother-in-law of an African American man and the proud grandmother of biracial boys. This has changed my perspective. A lot. Some of my Caucasian friends complain about the BLM movement, and shout the rallying cry: "All Lives Matter!!" Umm, well yes they do. And they mattered back when the KKK were burning crosses and lynching young black men for daring to stand up to white folk. In a conversation with a peer in recent months, I was challenged on using the term White Privilege. "Well, I don't know what you're talking about. I grew up poor. I didn't have privilege." To which I responded, "Your skin color was your privilege. You weren't turned away from jobs, or renting a home, or shopping at a store BECAUSE you are white." He just didn't get it, and many don't. I don't completely understand because I didn't live that experience. But one thing I know is that I want better for my beautiful grandchildren. The world will not see them as biracial; they will see them as black. So fighting for what is right for my fellow human beings whose skin color is different, is actually fighting for what I want the world to be for my grandsons.

While at times this book was a little tedious, due to discussion of background characters and timelines (and admittedly, I like a "page-turner"), it was eye-opening in regard to the racial justice system in North Carolina in the 1970's! Not the 1870's, or 1940's, but just less than 50 years ago. What happened to Henry Marrow and the subsequent lack of justice handed out to his killers, made me cry, made me so angry, and made me question why there can't be exclusions to double-jeopardy. This is when one has to rely on Mr. Teal and his family having to answer to their Maker.

Lastly, I think the world needs more people like Rev. Tyson and Timothy Tyson. People who are willing to withstand the backlash because they know that they have to follow their conscience. That's the kind of person I hope to be.

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Close to home

Man, what an incredible book. I live in the exact location this book takes place and the story is chilling. To know that almost everyone in this book is still alive and well in and around Oxford is telling. I think everyone living in eastern NC should read this book. I moved here from an urban and liberal area and when I did so, I felt I moved fifty years into the past. This book explains why I and so many others feel that way. Racism is alive and well in our country. The best thing we can do is educate ourselves and others by reading books like this so we can address the uncomfortable in order to change it.