I mentioned a part of “Blood Done Sign My Name” in a sermon and also said I had not yet read it. Just before we flew to Florida Martha White Foy dropped by to give me a copy as a birthday present and something to read on the plane. Having finished it I would make it required reading for anyone going into the ministry.
It is not a book on how to preach, but rather a book that indirectly deals with what I think are the most important qualities for a preacher. Qualities of which I have often been weighed and found wanting.
The book is written by Timothy Tyson, the son of a white Methodist preacher, who grew up in North Carolina during the 60s and 70s when integration was in full bloom. An experience in Tyson’s early days in Oxford, NC changed his life. It had to do with a friend of his saying. “Daddy and Roger and ‘em shot ‘em a nigger. “ He was referring to the murder of Henry Marrow, a twenty-three-year-old black veteran who had been accused of flirting with a white man’s wife. The eventual trial at which the husband, father-in-law and a step-son were found not guilty, and the events that both preceded and followed the trial make up the bulk of the book.
Tyson’s father, Vernon Tyson, as minister of a Methodist church in Sanford, NC, had tried to bring about racial harmony in his town as racial discourse spread across the deep south. After the events of April 1963 in Birmingham, Ala., Vernon Tyson wrote a letter to the editor of the Sanford Herald saying that all the Sanford churches should open their doors to everyone, regardless of color. He received a scolding letter from the editor, warning him that leaders who went “too far, too fast” ended up without any followers, and maybe without a job. Along with the hate mail that followed, were lowered eyes on the streets, and resentful stares.
In 1963, after the assassination of President Kennedy, Vernon Tyson met Dr. Samuel Proctor, president of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College, and one of the leading black preachers of his time. After hearing Proctor speak, Tyson asked if he would come to Sanford and speak at the Methodist church. Proctor agreed. Both Proctor and Tyson knew that Martin Luther King’s words were true, that eleven o’clock on Sunday morning was the most segregated hour in America, and all-white churches did not welcome black preachers in their pulpits.
When the church members heard about Proctors proposed visit, the telephone rang constantly. A meeting by fifty church members was called and they insisted that the invitation be rescinded. He tried to reason with them, but refused to comply with their demand. Death threats followed, among them threats to dynamite the house. His job was on the line as well.
When Tyson came home from the meeting at the church he was met with the news that a threat had been made to blow up his house and harm his family. He was ready to give in, but his wife gabbed his arms and told him to stand his ground. Even his supporters began to back off. Their comments are almost the “scripture” of churches, “It isn’t worth tearing the church apart over.”
The night before Proctor was to speak there was another meeting called. The board demanded that Tyson call and cancel the appointment. One member pushed the phone across the desk saying, “You can end all this with just one phone call.” Others said it was going to tear up the church. Then Miss Amy Womble, a sixty-year-old first grade teacher, who had taught most of the people in the room, stood up. I won’t tell all her story, but she said something that needs repeating. After saying she knew their preacher and she didn’t know Dr. Proctor, She said, “If there’s going to be any tearing done, we’re going to do the tearing apart ourselves.” Then she went on to remind them that a white boy near Chapel Hill had run his car off the road and was killed in the crash. As they stood waiting for the ambulance to take him to the funeral home, an airman from Pope Air Force Base stopped. He went down to the boy and opened his mouth. He saw the boy’s tongue was stuck in his throat and he ran his finger in and pulled out the tongue. He then gave the boy mouth to mouth resuscitation. By the time the ambulance got there the boy was walking around. The following week they had a big dinner at the fire station for the airman. Then Miss Amy paused and said, “What I haven’t told you is that the boy who had been in the wreck was white, and the airman that saved him was a black man.” She looked around the room and said, “Now which one of you fathers would have said to that airman, ‘Now, don’t run your black fingers down my boy’s white throat’? Which of y’all would have told that airman, ‘Don’t you dare put your black lips on my boy’s mouth’?” Dr Proctor spoke at the church the next day to a packed house.
One of the members who was a wholesale grocery salesman said that when he told a costumer he was supporting Tyson’s asking Dr. Proctor to speak, he was ordered out of the store and told never to come back.
A few years later, in 1966, Tyson was invited to a church at Oxford, NC. There, amid the racial tension of the time, he once again invited a black minister to preach. Once again, he was in trouble, but not as much as before. It would be his stand in trying to bring reconciliation during the riots after Henry Marrow’s killers went free, that sent the Tyson family to Wilmington.
Timothy Tyson’s life was so changed by his father’s courage and the death of Henry Marrow, that he went to Duke and earned his Ph.D. and is now teaching Afro-American Studies at the University of Wisconsin.
As I read the book, I was reminded too much about the times in West Virginia during the sixties and seventies, I stood by far too quietly as Church of Christ preachers passed out their racist, bigoted, material.
It would be nice to say such things are in the past, but they are not. Prejudice of all kinds still raises its ugly head. And, as it was then, far too much of it comes from the pews of churchgoers. And it is always based on the same thing, fear.
CONCERNS: Mary Smith has had a setback. Another vertebra has fractured. However, they are hoping it will heal by her wearing a cast. She will be in rehab a few more days. Brice Reid had an appendicectomy on Wednesday afternoon. He is home and doing fine. Several in the congregation have been sick with chest congestion and head colds. Remember the Hall’s neighbor who has cancer. Mike Breeding has not yet had his surgery. Keep him and his wife in your prayers. Joanne Elder and Erma Williams are still job hunting. Joni Beach’s mother is about the same. Connie Crites father, and Debbie Conner, whose husband, Randy, has what seems to be terminal cancer. Helen Nicklas is about the same. Continue to remember Barbara McCauley, Jenni and Wilma Cullum, Tim Elder, and Roger Fisher’s nephew in Florida, who has cancer, but is responding to treatment. Also the work of Health Talents and Bread For A Hungry World.
OUR DAILY BREAD: FEB. 21-26
Monday: Jeremiah 31:23-34
Tuesday: I Cor. 11:17-34
Wednesday: Acts 6:1-7
Thursday: Matthew 5:21-48
Friday: Psalm 119:129-152
Saturday: Psalm 67:1-7
OUR DAILY BREAD: FEB. 28-MAR. 4
Monday: I Timothy 6:11-21
Tuesday: Psalm 119:89-112
Wednesday: Mark 2:15-3:6
Thursday: Acts 8:4-24
Friday: Luke 22:39-53
Saturday: 1 Cor. 15:42-58
Sleiman e-mailed last week to say that he had retired from AEP and had taken a position in Houston, TX. He will be leaving Columbus in March and Juliette and the children will follow in June. Maria is a Junior at Ohio State and Danielle is a Junior in High School.
Sunday, February 20, is Super Sunday. As the weather changes what better way to enjoy a good meal and good friends than to eat together. Plan to stay.
We are still in the process of taking updated pictures for the new directory and this Sunday looks to be a nice day. Some of the pictures taken a week or so ago didn’t turn out due to the sun reflecting in the lens. Erma will be taking them after the service and during our fellowship time together.
Our young folks are at Winterfest in Gatlinburg, TN. This weekend and will be returning on Sunday. They hope to be here in time to enjoy the Super Sunday meal with us. Keep them in your prayers as they travel home.
AN UNUSUAL EVENT
Last week a woman dropped by the office and said she wanted to make a contribution to the church. It seems we had helped her several years ago and she wanted to give back. After being told that was not necessary, she insisted and presented a hundred dollar bill. When asked if that was what we had given her she replied she had only needed fifty-two, but she wanted to give the hundred.
In all the forty some years I have been preaching that is the first time anyone ever did anything like that. Say a little prayer for this unusual woman.
AROUND THE BUILDING
You will notice that the two pictures (of which only one was on the wall until it was taken down for VBS) in the foyer have been hung. Frames for the pictures sent by the chaplain for the troops we helped in Iraq
have been purchased. As soon as a frame and a self for the flag is found, they will be placed on the wall downstairs. Rather than hang the flag it seemed more appropriate to frame it and place it on a self out of the way.