Ruth Pauley Lecturer: Tyson's Book to Become Movie
Wednesday night's Ruth Pauley lecturer is on his way to Hollywood without leaving home.
Timothy B. Tyson is a Duke University professor who wrote an award-winning bestseller a few years ago that is about to become a movie. "Blood Done Sign My Name" is a true story that had its beginning in a racial murder when Tyson was a boy.
The killing and its aftermath marked a searing, burning event in Tyson's life, perhaps the very moment that set him on the path that would lead to his life's work as a chronicler of racial battles. His highly praised book weaves the story of the murder, the trial and his family's involvement in a summer of struggle.
His tale begins with a single stark and deadly announcement: A black man had been shot.
"That's what Gerald Teel said to me in my family's driveway in Oxford, North Carolina, on May 12, 1970," Tyson wrote. "We were both 10 years old. I was bouncing a basketball. The night before, a black man had 'said something' at the store to Judy, his 19-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. He was killed in public as he lay on his back, helpless, begging for his life."
The book won much acclaim, but now Tyson's life is taking another turn, bringing him back to scenes of his childhood as the son of a Methodist minister as he scouts locations and talks casting with another "PK" -- preacher's kid -- from North Carolina.
Jeb Stuart grew up in Charlotte and Gastonia and went on to finish college at Chapel Hill and then to Hollywood. By age 21, he was already an up-and-coming screenwriter. His uncredited work on "48 Hours" was noticed. His next film was a hit: "Die Hard." So was another, "The Fugitive," nominated for the Writers Guild award in 1994.
Stuart's father was a Presbyterian minister, Tyson's father was a Methodist preacher who would later describe himself as an "Eleanor Roosevelt liberal," according to Tyson.
"Unlike the Free Will Baptists, the Methodists required an educated clergy," Tyson wrote. "That denominational switch changed the whole history of our family. The Methodists were a more middle-class denomination, and Methodists had minimal salary protection and a retirement plan. If I grew up with a carpet on the floor and a picture on the wall and books in the house, it was partly because we became Methodists."
Now the two preachers' kids have been traipsing about North Carolina scouting locations for the low-budget feature film version of "Blood." Tyson may talk about the project Wednesday, when he comes to Sandhills Community College to discuss race relations and his book as part of the Ruth Pauley Lecture Series.
The lecture -- rescheduled from Feb. 6 -- will be tonight at 7:30 in Owens Auditorium. Admission is free and open to the public with no tickets required.
Tyson earned his bachelor's degree at Emory University and doctorate at Duke University. He served as the John Hope Franklin Fellow at the National Humanities Center and Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Tyson is presently the senior scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke, with secondary appointments in the Duke Divinity School and the Department of History. He is also adjunct professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In 1998, Tyson's first book, "Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy," was co-edited with David S. Cecelski and marked the centennial of the massacre and coup d'etat in Wilmington. It won the Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America.
His book, "Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (1999)," earned the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize from the Organization of American Historians as well as the James Rawley Prize. It was the foundation for "Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power," a documentary film by Sandra Dickson and Churchill Roberts at the University of Florida's Documentary Institute that was broadcast on national television.
"Blood Done Sign My Name" was published in 2004. It was selected by UNC-Chapel Hill for its summer reading program in 2005 and by community reading programs across the state. The next year it was selected for Villanova University's "One Book Villanova" program, won the Southern Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
This year, Tyson taught a course entitled "The South in Black and White" that met at Hayti Heritage Center in downtown Durham. More than 200 students from North Carolina Central University, Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, and 150 local residents enrolled in this experimental community/school race relations course.
The Ruth Pauley Lecture Series, in its 21st season, is sponsored by Sandhills Community College, the Moore County Schools, the League of Women Voters, and the American Association of University Women.
Previous speakers have included Newt Gingrich, George McGovern, Ossie Davis, Stephen Ambrose, Patty Duke and Jack Hannah. The next lecture will be April 8, when Richard Kimball will discuss Project Vote Smart.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
More like this story