Local News

Author: 'Blood Done Sign My Name' is inspiring history

Posted February 19, 2010 4:02 a.m. EST
Updated September 11, 2010 7:10 p.m. EDT

— A movie about the 1970 killing of a black man in Oxford and the trial that resulted in the acquittals of white men opened nationally Friday.

"Blood Done Sign My Name," which was shown in Charlotte and Raleigh, is based on the best-selling memoir by Tim Tyson, a Duke University professor who grew up in Oxford during the time of the shooting and trial.

"(Screenwriter) Jeb Stuart's movie is just a dream come true for me, because he gets the history and understands, in a deep way, the way that races operate," Tyson said.

Stuart, who directed "Blood," is best known for writing action films such as "Die Hard" and "The Fugitive." The movie was filmed in North Carolina, mostly in Monroe and Shelby, and stars Nate Parker and Rick Schroder.

"Blood Done Signed My Name" captures a powerful moment of the civil rights movement in North Carolina, galvanized by the murder of Henry Murrow. The 23-year-old Vietnam War veteran was shot and beaten to death. When a jury acquitted a prominent white businessman and his grown sons of Murrow's death, violence followed.

To direct that anger peacefully, a young teacher, Ben Chavis, organized thousands along a three-day, 50-mile protest march to the state Capitol in Raleigh. Tyson's father, a pastor of an all-white Methodist church, worked to get his congregation to accept integration.

Tyson said that although his father's role is pivotal to the story, his dad was one person among many trying to do what was right.

"My daddy, who I very much love and respect – it's not as if he rides in on a white horse and saves the day," he said. "And that's not very Hollywood."

Instead, Tyson said, Stuart's script resists Hollywood stereotypes of white heroes and black sidekicks to show the whole range of attitudes at that moment in the civil rights movement.

Tyson said he finds that story more inspiring: "It's an ordinary American story, and I wanted people to see that social change comes from people in their communities."

That change made by people like those in Oxford created a larger, powerful movement, the professor said.

"The South has been the crucible in which American democracy has been hammered and envisioned," he said. "The songs and inflections and the intellectual insights and the politics of the African-American freedom movement echo all over the planet, out of the South."

Tyson said that writing the book – which has sold over 200,000 copies – has drawn him into conversations with people who are still working to create better democracy and better race relations in North Carolina.

"This conversation isn't comfortable, and it isn't easy, and sometimes folks get mad. But we're having it," he said. "And the sparks of illumination that I have seen give me great hope that we – imperfect, stumbling, little 'd' democrats that we are – may be able to change the history of the world together."