One Book author packs Villanova room

Oscar Abello

Timothy Tyson’s book, “Blood Done Sign My Name,” begins with a controversial first sentence. The year is 1970, and Tyson is only 10 years old. The memory of hearing of the racially-charged murder triggers a deep meditation on justice in the life of Tyson and his family in the old tobacco country of North Carolina.

“It’s not about guilt,” Tyson said. “It’s not about wallowing in self-flagellation for the sins of the past. It’s about what kind of community do you want your children and grandchildren to grow up in, and how do you get there from here.”

Tyson’s book is this year’s selection for One Book Villanova, the annual University program uniting students, faculty, staff members and local residents by distributing copies of the book to residence halls, offices and libraries.

Over the course of the year, Villanova, local libraries and private homes hosted events to delve deeper into the significance of the year’s selection. This is the program’s second year.

“I think it’s especially useful for people who are in a community and are wrestling with their own issues to see another community wrestle with its issues,” Tyson said.

He is currently a senior scholar at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, and before that he served from 1994 to 2006 as professor of African American Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Tyson visited Villanova on Jan. 25 and 26 as part of Villanova’s annual celebration of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Faculty members conduct Freedom School sessions consisting of campus-wide seminars and discussions on selected topics such as “The Life and Times of Rosa Parks,” “Songs of the Civil Rights Movement” and “The Musical Activism of Bono.”

In late afternoon, Tyson participated in a seminar discussion titled “Interrogating Privilege, Power and Prejudice in the University.”

Other panel members included Larry Little, Susan Mackey-Kallis, Carol Anthony, Karima Bouchenafa and Tom Mogan. Bryan Crable, department chair of communication, moderated the discussion that focused on some of the pitfalls of realizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream at the University.

“I have difficulty expressing what a privilege it is to receive this blessing, that is the greatest thing any writer can hope for, which is simply to be heard and engaged with in a serious way,” Tyson said. “So often we work in a kind of vacuum, and you wonder what’s going on out there, wishing you could get something back so this is just the nectar of the gods.”

Tyson delivered the keynote speech for the celebration on the evening of Jan. 25. Tyson discussed his work on the issue of race in the United States, especially in the context of “Blood Done Sign My Name.”

The program began with performances by the Villanova Gospel Choir followed by a solo medley by Mary Williams, who often accompanies Tyson.

She brings the book to life by performing the gospel spirituals that are mentioned in the book, including the song after which the book is named.

“A lot of people may question why a white man from eastern North Carolina is so obsessed with African-American culture, but it really is not so unusual,” Tyson said. “It is so much a part of world culture – music, movies and literature.”

“The world is one big minstrel show,” he added.

Tyson concluded his visit the next morning at a breakfast conversation with student leaders. The discussion focused on the role of student leadership in civil rights and social change.

“I loathe that I must leave,” Tyson said. “But I am glad to have been present here at Villanova and to hear you so engaged together struggling with these issues.”