01/27/08 — Author to visit Wayne on Monday

View Archive

Author to visit Wayne on Monday

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 27, 2008 2:01 AM

Wayne Community College student Shelia Grimes is sure she would not be reading "Blood Done Sign My Name" if she hadn't returned to school at age 65.

It's hard to stop reading the book, which is required reading in one of her classes and the 2008 Wayne County Reads selection, she said.

On Monday, Mrs. Grimes will get the chance to meet the author, as Timothy Tyson conducts a presentation and book signing at Wayne Community College's Moffatt Auditorium at 7 p.m.

"I think the reason I'm so into this is I experienced basically what the book is about," Mrs. Grimes said. "I lived it."

The book signing will be the second event for 2008 Wayne County Reads. After Tyson's speech, a reception will follow, with the author expected to bring 26 copies of the book with him to sign.

Project co-chairman Tara Humphries said during the final organizational meeting Wednesday that more than 100 people attended the first event, which was an art exhibit at the Arts Council of Wayne County. She said she expects the auditorium, which holds up to 400 people, to be filled Monday night.

The book, which is a true story about a black man who was murdered in Tyson's home town of Oxford, was chosen by popular vote for this year's Wayne County Reads project. Copies of "Blood Done Sign My Name" are available at the public library branches and Seymour Johnson Air Force Base library. The book can also be purchased from the Wayne Community College and Mount Olive College bookstores and from Books-A-Million in Goldsboro.

Mrs. Grimes was 28 in 1970, when the events in the book transpired. She came through the transition from segregation to integration.

When she was in high school, everything was segregated, water fountains, rest rooms, theaters, libraries, even parks where the children played. She had to ride past three white schools to reach her high school in Greenville, S.C. When she rode on the public transportation system, she had to ride in the back of the bus.

"I could not sit down in Woolworth's. The whites had stools up front. We could eat in the back, but we had to stand," she recalled.

All that separation didn't sit well with young Shelia. Her mother taught her there was just one race -- the human race -- and that she could be anything she wanted to be.

Her college days began in the South and ended in New York.

When she came home, she was faced with many of the same concerns, she said.

"I could have been a militant given the right circumstances," she said. "But I'm married to a minister, so I guess God wanted me to calm myself down."

And there were many confrontations during those years, even a riot one day at Southern Wayne High School where Gerald Simmons was an English teacher.

Simmons said the riot occurred during the first years of school integration, when tensions were so high "you could cut them with a knife."

Things had calmed down by the mid-'70s when Simmons left the public schools to teach at Wayne Community College, where he is now. He is also a member of the Wayne County Reads Committee.

Many people of all races lost their lives during those troubled years, and when the blood flowed, Simmons said, it ran red from everybody.

He said he got his views from his mother, who taught him that all people were equal.

"Gladys Simmons was my steel magnolia," he said. "Other kids in my neighborhood received toys. I remember my mother's first gift to me was a book, then a desk, then a desk-sized dictionary which I still have today. She knew the value of education," said Simmons, who considers "Blood Done Sign My Name" the best book he has read in a very long time.

"It's spell-binding, well-crafted, well-documented without being pedantic, historical without being hysterical," said Simmons. He said the book is a reminder of how hard-earned freedom has been.

Simmons said if he doesn't remind them, his grandchildren are going to go on believing restrooms have always been available to everybody, not painted with signs saying words like "Colored Women" and "White Ladies" and signs on water fountains saying things like "White Only" or "Colored."

"This book is a string on my finger to urge me to let my grandchildren know this has not always been, and it wasn't easy to come by," he said. "Later generations feel like it's always been this way, but my generation knows full well it has not. We can't live off the legends of the many people who have helped bring us to where we are. They have done their part. It is now left to us to make our own contributions to the cause of freedom, equality, justice and progressive thinking and move forward."