Chronicle of Racial Conflict Chosen for Reading Program

Eastern North Carolina native Timothy B. Tyson’s Blood Done Sign My Name is the University’s choice for incoming undergraduates to read and discuss in the 2005 Summer Reading Program.

Chosen by UNC’s Summer Reading Program Book Selection Committee, the book, published last year, centers around Tyson’s own experiences, including living in Oxford as a white 10-year-old in 1970 when the murder of Henry Marrow, a 23-year-old black veteran, ignited an explosive chapter in the history of racial conflict in North Carolina.

Tyson is the 2004-05 John Hope Senior Fellow at the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, and he is scheduled to deliver a public lecture at the center at 5 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 17. His topic will be “Miss Amy’s Witness: Why the History of the Civil Rights Movement is (Mostly) Wrong.”

The lecture will address events that occurred in 1963, as racial conflict raged in the streets of Birmingham and in hundreds of communities across the South. That’s also when Jonesboro Heights Methodist Church in Sanford shook to its foundations in a dispute over race. Tyson says. A retired schoolteacher, “Miss Amy” Womble, stepped forward with a lesson for her church, Tyson says, and changed many hearts in her community. He includes Miss Amy’s story in Blood Done Sign My Name.

In a statement about their selection, committee members wrote that Tyson’s story was engaging and fearlessly shared his own emotions and insights about how a white person was touched by the racial tension that permeated the Jim Crow South.

“Our committee concluded that Blood Done Sign My Name was an especially appropriate selection for a program that asks our new students to focus on discussion and dialogue about a compelling topic,” said committee Chairman Holden Thorp ’86.

All new Carolina students – about 3,650 freshmen and 800 transfer students – will be asked to read the book over the summer and come to Chapel Hill prepared to participate in small group discussions led by faculty and staff. The noncredit assignment is voluntary. The discussion groups will be held Aug. 29, the day before fall semester classes begin.

“We believe that the questions and issues raised by Blood Done Sign My Name will provide many excellent opportunities for our new students to have thoughtful conversations in their discussion groups,” Thorp said.

Tyson is a professor of Afro-American studies at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

A nine-member book selection committee made up of students, faculty and staff began meeting in October to consider books for the program, which twice in past years has generated controversy over the books chosen. The committee received book suggestions from 224 people and sought to select a book that would intellectually stimulate entering first-year and transfer students and provoke thoughtful discussion.

The Summer Reading Program is now in its seventh year at UNC. Since 1999, the reading program choices have included There Are No Children Here, Confederates in the Attic, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Approaching the Qur’an, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America and Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point. All are nonfiction works.

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