There are books that I personally recommend to anyone who is looking for a great read.
There are books that I encourage people to read for its social commentary.
There are books that I applaud because of the narrative style.
There are books that continually haunt me.
There are books that reaffirm the fact that I am human.
There are books that speak to parts of me that I have not been introduce to fully yet.
Then there is that rare book that does all of the aforementioned to which I refer back time and again for perspective and to use simultaneously as a mirror and sounding board. Tim Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name is one such book.
The book is anchored by an incident that happened on May 11, 1970 when Henry Marrow, a 23-year black man was killed by three white men on a main street in Oxford, NC. Tyson, who was 10 at the time was the son of a local minister, chronicles not only the events of that spring day, but the aftermath and the struggle to come to grips with a society that bred (and still does) racial equality.
I was born in the summer of 1970 in Alabama. I was raised in a small town in rural Georgia that had its own past and current struggles with race inequity. When I first read Dr. Tyson’s book, I could imagine every detail as if taking place in a running and stunningly vivid motion picture in my head.
I had the honor of hearing Dr. Tyson speak years ago in Winston-Salem in a church one Sunday evening. He spoke from the pulpit about the very issues that were at the heart of his book. I remembered at the time that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once stated that the most segregated hour in America was 11 A.M. on Sundays when church generally convened. However, the church Dr. Tyson was speaking in celebrated all people despite race or income levels. I pass by that church often and think of how that evening years ago was one of the most welcoming times a stranger like me could ever feel.
Afterward, I got to speak with Dr. Tyson, explained to him I was a teacher and that I was using the book as one of the choice reads in my AP English Language and Composition classes. I also wanted him to know that I appreciated the book because it was true and brave to me, but I especially wanted to tell him that his writing about the relationship that his father had with Dr. Tyson and people of the younger generation was truly special. What his father did was be a teacher. What Dr. Tyson did (and still does) is be a teacher.
And we need teachers.
There are many things still happening in today’s world that makes me think of Dr. Tyson’s book and what it can still teach us about looking at our sordid social past and what we should have learned from honest reflection and tenacious honesty.
We live in a state that has gerrymandered its political districts to keep certain voters from being equally heard with their votes.
We live in a state that had an unconstitutional Voter ID law that targeted poor minorities in small rural towns.
We live in a state that refused to expand Medicaid to our most needful citizens.
We live in a state that is suffering greatly from poverty when our legislation brags of a state surplus.
We live in a state where a decentralized privatization of public schools is literally desegregating our schools.
We live in a state that has so much racial inequality.
My fear is that if we do not really learn from our past, then we are not only condemned to repeat it, we are doomed to magnify its effects.
Truthfully, Dr. Tyson’s book is as relevant today as it was when first published.
Blood Done Sign My Name is the kind of work that freezes the present time, takes us back to the past and allows us to compare the two periods in an honest but true fashion. If we are to think that the time between 1970 and 2017 has brought healing to our racial inequality, then we should get out of our boxes a little more.
We need good teachers when it comes to the subject of society, especially one that claims to follow the teachings of Christ, speaks of everyone being equal, and promotes democracy.
Blood Done Sign My Name is a great textbook for that subject.