Timothy B. Tyson (born 1959) is an American writer and historian from North Carolina who specializes in the issues of culture, religion and race associated with the Civil Rights Movement of the twentieth century. He has joint appointments at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. He has won numerous teaching awards, as well as recognition for creative and experimental courses, including one that took students on a tour of sites of the civil rights events in the South. His books have won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize, James A. Rawley Prize, the 2007 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Religion, and the Southern Book Award. In addition, two have been adapted as films, and one as a play.
Early life and education
Tyson was born in North Carolina. His parents are Vernon Tyson, a Methodist minister, and his wife. In his youth, the family lived in Oxford, North Carolina, in 1970, when Henry Marrow, a young black man, was killed by whites. The suspects were acquitted by an all-white jury. Blacks organized a boycott of white businesses in the mostly segregated town, and achieved integration after 18 months. Tyson's father was driven out of his church because of his support of the civil rights movement.
Tyson began his teaching career at Duke University, where he taught "United States History from the New Deal to the Present" for two years while finishing his doctorate in 1994. During that time, he was named Research Fellow at the Center for Ethical Studies at Duke University, for his work, "Dynamite: A Story from the Second Reconstruction in South Carolina," which was later published in Glenda Gilmore, et al., Jumpin' Jim Crow: The New Southern Political History (Princeton University Press, 2000.) He won the Mattie Russell Teaching Fellowship for his course, "And Still I Rise: African American Culture in the Twentieth Century."
In 1994, he became assistant professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he taught "Introduction to Afro-American History," "Race and American Politics," and "Freedom Stories: Writing Movement History." He won the Lilly Teaching Award for 1996-97.
With three colleagues, professors Craig Werner and Steve Kantrowitz, and graduate assistant Danielle McGuire, Tyson led a series of busloads of students from Madison to Chicago, Illinois and Nashville, Tennessee, and then on to Birmingham, Selma, and Montgomery, Alabama; Jackson, Hattiesburg, and Duck Hill, Mississippi; and New Orleans, Louisiana, to explore and discuss their histories. Called Freedom Ride: The Sites and Sounds of the Civil Rights Movement, it won the 2002 Best Course Award from the North American Association of Summer Sessions.
Tyson became full professor of Afro-American Studies. From 2002 to the present, Tyson was named Distinguished Lecturer by the Organization of American Historians. Tyson was selected as a John Hope Franklin Senior Fellow at the National Humanities Center in 2004-05.
He serves as Senior Research Scholar at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, with secondary appointments in the Duke Divinity School and the Department of History. At the Divinity School, he teaches about race, religion and civil rights in the South. He also has a position in the Department of American Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
In 2007, Tyson taught an experimental course entitled "The South in Black and White," which met at Hayti Heritage Center in downtown Durham, for students of Duke University, North Carolina Central University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In the fall of 2008, Tyson and Mary D. Williams, a leading gospel singer, led a community-based course in Wilmington, called "Wilmington in Black and White." Meeting at the historic Williston School, participants explored the ways that Southern history and culture may illuminate efforts at racial reconciliation and healing in one community.
Blood Done Sign My Name
Tyson's books include Blood Done Sign My Name (2004), published by Crown, a memoir and history of the killing by whites of Henry Marrow, a black man and Vietnam veteran, in Oxford, North Carolina in 1970. The book also documents the African-American reaction to the acquittal of the suspects by the all-white jury. There was violence, but also organized protests: a march to the capital and an 18-month boycott of white businesses that achieved eventual integration in the town.
- 2005, the book won the Southern Book Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
- 2006, Tyson was awarded the Grawemeyer Award in Religion, which carries a $200,000 cash prize, by the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
- His book has been selected by dozens of college and community reading programs, including University of North Carolina, Villanova University, the University of Iowa, Guilford College, the University of North Carolina-Asheville, and Greensboro College, and also "One Book, One Community" reading programs in Wilmington, Rocky Mount, Wake County, and other North Carolina communities.
- The Hollywood screenwriter and director Jeb Stuart, best known for The Fugitive and Die Hard, wrote a screenplay based on Blood Done Sign My Name and directed the movie of the same name. It was filmed in Shelby, Charlotte, Gastonia, Monroe, and Statesville, North Carolina, in the summer of 2008. Nate Parker, the star of The Great Debaters, plays Benjamin Chavis. Rick Schroder of NYPD Blue stars as Vernon Tyson, a Methodist minister. An independent film, Blood Done Sign My Name was released in February 2010.
- Mike Wiley, playwright and actor, adapted the book as a play by the same name; Blood Done Sign My Name (2008) premiered at Duke University's Shaefer Theater. It was also produced at the city hall in Oxford on February 13, 2009, where it played to a packed house and a standing ovation.
Work on Robert F. Williams
In 1998, Tyson published "Robert F. Williams, 'Black Power,' and the Roots of the Black Freedom Struggle" in the Journal of American History. The following year, he published Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power (1999). It won the Frederick Jackson Turner Prize for best first book in U.S. history from the Organization of American Historians, as well as the James A. Rawley Prize for best book on the subject of race.
Sandra Dickson and Churchill Roberts adapted the material as Negroes with Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power, a documentary film produced at the University of Florida's Documentary Institute. It was broadcast on national television in February 2007. Negroes with Guns, for which Tyson served as lead consultant, won the Erick Barnouw Award for best historical film from the Organization of American Historians.
Work on Wilmington Race Riot
Tyson's first book, Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy (1998), was co-edited with David S. Cecelski. Its publication marked the centennial of the massacre and coup d'état in Wilmington. It won the Outstanding Book Award from the Gustavus Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights in North America.
In 2006, Tyson wrote a special section, "Ghosts of 1898," on the events in Wilmington for the Charlotte Observer and the Raleigh News and Observer. This 16-page special section was widely distributed. Soon afterward, the North Carolina General Assembly passed legislation to require teaching in public schools about the white supremacy campaigns and the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898. "Ghosts of 1898" won an Excellence Award from the National Association of Black Journalists.
Wake County School Board protest
Tyson was arrested on June 15, 2010 by Raleigh police on charges of second-degree trespassing. He, along with Rev. William Barber, the President of the North Carolina Chapter of the NAACP, and two others protested recent decisions by the Wake County school board by taking over the seats of several school board members. They were opposing the school board's decision to change its diversity policy, based on busing students to try to balance socio-economic diversity. In consideration of parents' concerns, the school board recently decided to change to a community school system, where students can attend schools close to where they live. Tyson believes this will lead to de facto segregation because of residential patterns.
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- Duke History Department
- The South in Black and White, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University
- News & Observer (Charlotte)
- NABJ Announces 2007 Salute to Excellence Award Winners
- "'Non-violent protest' halts Wake school board meeting", WRAL.com