<B>Echoes of the South's troubled past</B> The central story of <B>Blood Done Sign My Name</B> sounds distressingly familiar the murder of a young man by a reputed Klansman and his sons in a small Southern town. It would be a mistake, however, to dismiss Timothy Tyson's book as the same old, same old. For one thing, the murder did not take place in the early days of the civil rights era; it occurred at the start of a decade more often associated with gas shortages, Watergate and Vietnam protests than with sit-ins. As Tyson explains, however, there were many civil rights issues left to be resolved in 1970.
"Many people nowadays think that after the U.S. Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964," he writes, "cafÅ½ owners and city officials read the news in the morning paper and took down all those WHITE ONLY and COLORED signs by lunchtime. But this landmark legislation did not make a dent in Oxford." Lingering racial tensions in the North Carolina town are only part of the story told in <B>Blood Done Sign My Name</B>. This is also a history of Tyson's family and an exploration of how the killing of Henry "Dicky" Marrow affected Tyson, who first learned of it from a fellow nine-year-old the son of the accused. Tyson goes off on many tangents while meting out details of the murder and subsequent trial, but the crime is always lurking in the background.
If his reportage is reminiscent of Truman Capote and his storytelling evocative of Harper Lee, Tyson's use of colorful phrases and wry observations bring to mind Homer Hickam's depictions of Coalwood, West Virginia. Tyson describes the setting of the murder, for example, as a place where "the Great Depression came early and stayed late." His father, he writes: "drew on a deep well of spiritual strength, and was a Tyson from eastern North Carolina and therefore half crazy besides."While an entertaining read, Blood Done Sign My Name is, of course, a disturbing reminder of the country's not-too-distant segregated past. It is also an insightful commentary on the latent issues still at work in today's society.