"Any psychiatrist can tell you that genuine healing requires a candid confrontation with our past. In any case, if there is to be reconciliation, first there must be truth."
Blood Done Sign My Name: a book that is changing me, showing me newly discovered truth, and is challenging me to reevaluate past perceptions.
This book works because Timothy B Tyson is brave enough to be honest. Timothy brings a perspective I greatly needed to hear, a white boy living in the south, dealing with his own issues of racism even though his family considered themselves, "white liberals." Right away I could relate. Not because I lived through the 60's and 70's and grew up in the south, but because I grew up thinking that my family was not tainted by our country's history of racism. We are all tainted and effected, to deny this is to deny truth. Truth does set you free...moves you forward. The people in our country and the world deserve the Truth. Tyson is a writer and historian and does a good job documenting that at this time in our country's history the majority of whites were uncomfortable with the idea of desegregation. Probably people of my generation like to think that our families were different, in the minority, but if we were able to go one or two generations back and interview our grandparents and great grandparents honestly we would hear a different refrain.
In Blood Done Sign My Name, Timothy is a young boy when a murder occurs in his town. (His father is a minister in this town, and is quite progressive in his spiritual role.) Henry Morrow, a young Vietnam War veteran is murdered by whites. The two suspects are acquitted by an all-white jury and the result is violence and anger and a galvanizing of the African-American civil rights activities in Oxford and across the eastern part of North Carolina. (I remember the LA Riots when I was in high school and I realize I had no idea, no real idea, when this anger exploded as it did...why it did. I was ignorant. I remember hearing and wondering why people would react to the beating of Rodney King in such a way. How little I knew and understood at that point in my life.)
The story starts with Marrow's murder and Timothy pondering the fact that one of his white friends is from the accused family, but then he goes back and tells an honest story weaving his own family's transformations and roles in the race revolution that began to burst forth under the leadership of MLK, and the forces and factors that were at play in our country after WWII and beyond. People are changed through relationship. Each relationship is important as we grow and change as a united people. Leaders are important. They inspire, but Timothy's life and his family were just as essential. So were all the players big and small in Timothy's story.
I'm only half way through this read, but I felt compelled to write this now with this being the day we remember Martin Luther King Jr. and all the known and unknown heroes of that movement. Truthfully, I have done little to honor the man and the Civil Rights movement on this day in the past. It is just another Monday holiday to sleep in and enjoy my boys, so I am thankful and humbled to be in the midst of this read over this weekend and to be in the midst of my own new revelations regarding race in our country and in my family and families like mine.
Here are some quotes that I've highlights so far in my read of Blood Done Sign My Name. They should give you a taste and hopefully make you want to read this work:
"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." (Thank you, grace is needed toward all humans in all situations.)
"Like generations of black veterans before them, who had come home from France or the Philippines insisting that their sacrifices had bough them full citizenship, the Vietnam generation demanded justice. Though they had paid the price, more would be required." (I think I was taught to believe that all was done and transformed after WWII and the Civil Rights Movement. I'm saddened to learn that this piece of history was not taught to me in regard to the Vietnam era. When studying the Vietnam era the focus is other tragic issues, and the issue of race is lost.)
"On May 16th, 1970, five days after the killing in my hometown, Mississippi state troopers fired 350 rounds into a women's dormitory at historically black Jackson State University, killing two students and wounding twelve. In Vietnam, racial clashes in the U.S. Army made America's misbegotten war almost impossible to pursue. The country seemed to teeter on the bring of apocalypse. "This is a dangerous situation," the editors of Business Week declared. "It threatens the whole economic and social structure of the nation." (When something occurs in the decade you were born it makes events not seem so far in the past. I think we take comfort in assuming that the past stays there and we are far removed from it. It was good to be reminded that it wasn't that long ago.)
"But the hierarchy of white supremacy at its heart, was as rotten as that pile of old shoes, and the generations that follow will be many years cleaning it up." (When a country tolerates and celebrates racism like ours did, why are we baffled when we still have to deal with the repercussions of that sin. This also brings great irritation within me toward a common line that many conservative Christians constantly echo, "If only we could get back to the moral foundation that our country started with. Our country continues to slide more and more toward moral decay." This statement angers me because it has total disregard for the sins and immorality that were showed to so many in this country for hundreds of years. It is a self-centered and uneducated statement, and it has its roots in the notion of white supremacy: white, male, land-owning supremacy. That is not the message of Christ, nor was this an era that somehow God blessed. We were not a City on a Hill and I think our youth deserve a balanced story.
"It was the logic of moderation that permitted schools across the nation to evade the Supreme Court's 1954 ruling for almost twenty years, but when defiance and evasion finally became untenable, "seg academies" sprouted across the landscape. Fearful white parents flocked to the all-white Christian academies, abandoning the pubic schools in the hour of their deepest need so that their children would not have to attend school with black children." (I admit that I had the perception that desegregation happened in 1950's and that by the 70's it was something learned of in history books. I also feel like this still happens today, and fear continues to be the driving force behind parents pulling their kids out of public schools...class/religion seem to be the main factors in the communities I'm familiar with. There is unspoken fear regarding those not in your economic or educational class. Parents want their children to be in school with kids/families who are exactly like them. I don't think this is healthy for children or for our communities.)
"Thurmond helped Richard Nixon push his "Southern strategy" and led white Southerners into a new, Southern-based Republican Party that railed against "forced busing" and the intrusions of the "feddle gubment" and the Klan faded again." (He does a good job detailing the strategies of the political parties during this time which I think is helpful for discerning citizens to think upon.)
Timothy writes about his father, "You needed to have a relationship with someone before you could hope to change that person's habits, let alone her heart...." (This is a foundational belief of mine and dictates many of my life choices.)
I appreciated how our author pointed out that history has almost turned MLK into this nice Santa Claus character when he was actually quite radical and very much not appreciated by the whole of white America at that time, "The real Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis in 1968 calling for the "the dispossessed of our nation" to "organize a revolution." There he told the nation that "the whole structure of American life must be changed"-just before somebody killed him."
Timothy admits, "My particular world instructed me that nice white people must try to help blacks become more like white people. The astonishing arrogance and ignorance of these assumptions would be funny if those attitudes were not still fairly prevalent."
A good book is one that challenges me and changes me. A good book is a book that I refer to and bring up in conversation with others. My soul and mind crave books like, Blood Done Sign My Name, and I am grateful for having a friend who handed it to me. My book group is reading this, and I am eager for our discussion. I am also eager to finish this work. I can think of nothing I'd rather do today than curl up next to my fire, drink a perfect cup of coffee, and read the words that are teaching me so much.