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Blood Done Sign My Name

Saturday night I went to see a one-man play based on the nonfiction book Blood Done Sign My Name, the story of a racial conflict and killing of a young black man in Oxford, NC, back when author Tim Tyson was living there as a young son of a liberal minister.

His book, a bestseller that deserves to be, began when he, now an American studies historian at Duke, went back to Oxford to do some research and dig into what happened.

First example of boldness: to go to the small town where the white accused was acquitted and interview people about what they saw. (The anger at Tyson is still hot.)

Second example of boldness: to be the liberal minister (Vernon Tyson) holding a bi-racial service in a town divided by segregation and violence.

Third example of boldness: to live day to day as the mother of young black men, as does psalmist Mary D. Williams who sang gospel for the play. To be one of any minority group that isn’t surprised by injustice.

Seeing the play made me think again about my rage when Blue Cross treated me unfairly recently. That kind of treatment I think of as simply unacceptable; as my mother used to say to her misbehaving children, “We’re not going to have that.” (That edict extended even to having diseases and once to having a hurricane.) My daily expectation is that injustice is behavior that “will not do.”

For myself, I unthinkingly expect straight-up dealings because I have always been so privileged. Any exception to that is a shocking event.

And yet I grew up seeing and not-seeing and being a silent part of that kind of injustice during legally segregated years in Wilmington (where the racial violence occurred that makes up the last section of Blood Done Sign My Name.)

I read the book years ago, after my brother Harry read it and said: you have to read this. If you haven’t already, do. And if Mike Wiley’s one-man performance of 17 different roles in this story happens to play near you, be sure to see it. If you’re like me, your eyes need constant re-awaking.

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Categories: courage, theatre


  • January 28, 2011 at 9:10 am Reply

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