Blood Done Sign My Name by Timothy B. Tyson is an important autobiographical history of race relations in the United States, centered on events in North Carolina in the 1960's and 70's. Tyson writes with extraordinary grace and wisdom about the lives (and deaths) of people, black and white. The author is a deeply religious preacher's son, driven to fight for justice. As he notes in Chapter 1 ("Baptism"):

Before I could grasp what had happened in my hometown, I had to root through the basement of the courthouse, ransack the state archives, read a hundred years of old newspapers, and kneel beside the graves of blood kin and strangers. I had to get to know my own father and mother as real human beings, and to understand that the Lord works through deeply flawed people, since He made so few of the other kind. ...

The truth will set us free, so the Bible says, and my own experience bears witness. This story has carved changes in my life as deep as the enduring chasm of race in this country, but far more fortuitous. My search for the meaning of the troubles in Oxford launched me toward a life of learning, across lines of color and caste, out of my little boy's vision of my family's well-lighted place in the world and into the shadows where histories and memories and hopes abide.

Blood Done Sign My Name is full of deft, often self-deprecating humor. In Chapter 5 ("King Jesus and Dr. King") Tim Tyson adroitly explains the circumstances in 1966 which led to his father's abrupt move as pastor to the Oxford United Methodist Church:

Their previous minister — the Reverend Smith, as I shall call him — apparently had become spiritually and perhaps otherwise entangled with one of the more prominent women in his congregation. Counseling the good sister on matters of the Spirit, alas, Reverend Smith had wandered into the realm of the flesh. And the poor fool, intoxicated by love, had written Herself an amorous and wistful letter, which had fallen into the hands of her husband. Mr. Jones, as I shall call him, was a shopkeeper in a nearby town who sold, among other things, shotguns and pistols.

After recounting the outcome of the Smith and Jones confrontation — an abrupt, indefinitely-extended vacation by Reverend Smith — Tim Tyson describes his father's reaction to the transfer to Oxford:

The thing you have to understand about Daddy is that he wasn't just saying that stuff about the Lord. His God was a God who had a plan for your life, but who left you room to make your own mistakes. Your job was to watch for signs and listen for guidance. What others might dismiss as the vagaries of fate, my father interpreted as dancing lessons from the Divine. Every step was part of a ballet too large for you to see it all, a provisional choreography perhaps not even intended for you to understand, and the key was to move into its rhythms with both humility and boldness, never mistaking yourself for the director. ...

In Chapter 11 ("We All Have Our Own Stories") Tyson sketches a profile of family friend Ben Averett, who owned a farm where Tim spent some of his summers as a youth:

Ben was a brawny, forthright man whom I liked to call "Pharoah," because he kept me and Ed busy picking up rocks, weeding the garden, and carrying wood for the fires. Ben worked us hard, but he also showed us how to ride horses, shoot guns, catch fish, and think for ourselves. Though he had a gruff manner and a quick temper, he was also gentle and kind, quick to forgive, and defied all stereotypes. Ben kept rifles, shotguns, and pistols of all descriptions, drove a pickup truck, and liked country music. He made the best barbecued chicken the South has ever seen. Possibility was his playground. "Anything that you ever want to do, there is a book about it at the library," Ben liked to say. And his life bore testimony to his philosophy: he could build houses, do plumbing and electrical work, grow peaches, lay tile, and dance like nobody's business. Growing up, I considered Ben a model for what a man ought to be and do, and I was not far wrong. One day Ben decided that writing a sonnet couldn't be any harder than building a house, checked out a bunch of books about sonnets, and wrote a masterful sonnet — about building a house.

Finally, near the end of the "Acknowledgements" at the back of his book, Tyson describes a lovely scene with his mother:

When I was only three years old, Mama found me on the floor with a book pulled tightly against my face, sobbing hard. When she asked me why on earth I was crying, I told her, "Because I can't get in the book." Now, I could not read at that age. What had happened, really, is that my mother had read so many books to me, so vividly, so beautifully, that I expected to be able to pick up the book and plunge instantly into beautiful depths of the imagination, and was disappointed that I could not. In later years, of course, I found exactly that kind of staisfaction in books, and I owe all that to Mama. Martha Buie Tyson stands like a tree beside the river of our lives, giving shade and sustenance, and teaching all of us by example. ...

A good friend loaned me Blood Done Sign My Name and told me that after he read it he immediately bought additional copies to give to his children and lend out to others. I am doing likewise ...

(cf. ForGreatJustice (1 Sep 2002), InterracialIntimacies (24 Feb 2003), RacialRelationships (10 Jan 2004), AnHourBeforeDaylight (25 May 2004), InterracialCheckmate (20 Jul 2004), RaceAndLove (6 Aug 2004), Troublesome Words (9 Apr 2006), ...)

TopicSociety - TopicLiterature - Datetag20060504

(correlates: EmersonOnInformationRetrieval, EverIsALongTime, ToProtectAndToServe, ...)