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'Blood Done Sign My Name,' Timothy Tyson

About the author
Eva Salzman is a renowned poet and author whose publications include The English Earthquake and Bargain With The Watchman.

Blood done sign my name

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"Blood Done Sign My Name"
by Timothy Tyson
Crown | May 2005 | ISBN 1400083117

Recommended by novelist and poet, Eva Salzman: Alongside my "serious" reading, as a teenager, I devoured glossy magazines and the literary equivalent of junk food, indiscriminately and without guilt. As someone once said: hell, I'd read a cereal packet. I read fiction and poetry, but I also love biography, memoir, travel and what I dub cultural journalism, which includes these and everything in-between. Some people love to deplore the current cult of The Biography, but anyone who says they aren't fascinated by people's lives must be lying. I'd rather risk accusations of bad taste than not satisfy my curiosity.

Currently, I'm reading Timothy Tyson's Blood Done Sign My Name, which might be subtitled: Everything You Don't Want to Know - But Should Know - About The American South. Tyson grew up among white supremacists. The book is balanced at a pivotal moment in history, its mix of memoir and history channelled through the eyes of the author's younger self - at a pivotal age himself - whose introduction to racism was first-hand.

The teenage Tyson was grappling with time-honoured, teen-angst questions to do with identity, truth, morality and humanity against a backdrop of mounting social conflict: race riots sparked by the murder of a black man. The adult Tyson recounts this in the context of the growing national Black Power movement's attack on an entrenched racist system and status quo which civil rights legislation of the 1950s and early 1960s had addressed in theory, if not yet in practice.

Tyson's strength is that he's both compelling story-teller and professional historian: reflective, rigorous, honest, self-questioning, and also witty and warm, especially in his character studies of friends and family, including his preacher father. This is my kind of book. It's informative, humanist, deeply moving and beautifully written.

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An excerpt:


"Daddy and Roger and 'em shot 'em a nigger." That's what Gerald Teel said to me in my family's driveway in Oxford, North Carolina, on May 12, 1970. We were both ten years old. I was bouncing a basketball. The night before, a black man had "said something" at the store to Judy, his nineteen-year-old sister-in-law, Gerald told me, and his father and two of his brothers had run him out of the store and shot him dead. The man's name was Henry Marrow, I found out later, but his family called him Dickie. He was killed in public as he lay on his back, helpless, begging for his life. (To read more of this excerpt, click here.)

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About the author: Timothy Tyson is a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently working on his next book, Deep River: African American Freedom Movements in the 20th Century South.

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