01/29/08 — Homegrown perspective

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Homegrown perspective

By Bonnie Edwards
Published in News on January 29, 2008 2:06 PM

Historian Timothy Tyson told a crowd of 400 people at Wayne Community College Monday that he is still waiting for the Civil Rights Movement to bring about full integration.

The author of the 2008 Wayne County Reads selection "Blood Done Sign My Name," said people only have to look around any inner city high school and see the "sea of black faces" to know segregation still exists in American society.

The struggle to end segregation is the basis for Tyson's book, which chronicles the true story of the murder of a black man by a white family in 1970 in Oxford, N.C. The murder came while the tension in the community was high over the pending integration of the local schools.

Things are not as simple as they seem when you open a history book and read about the milestones reached during the Civil Rights Movement, Tyson said. Events such as the restaurant sit-in at Greens-boro in 1960, protests in Albany, Ga., in 1962 and the infamous church bombing in Birmingham, Ala., in 1963 have a complex history, he said. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act the following year were great accomplishments, but they have not ensured true integration, Tyson noted.

People insist in worshipping success, he said, and remember only the winners, he said. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ended the progress that had been made, he added.

The Civil Rights Movement involved thousands, he pointed out, most of them just average people who decided to take a stand for what they believed in.

"People were on the firing line, willing to die for something, and some of them did. Most people involved in the movement were just trying to do what they could in their own community," Tyson said.

History books paint a picture of equality, he said, but the United States has yet to reach true equality. Accomplishments like the Voting Rights Act are important, he said, but they should be looked at in the context of the economic situation in America.

"If my children are not well-equipped to live in society, they're going to come take your stuff. And then, you will have to pay for rehab and prison," he said.

Around the world, Tyson said, oppressed people are seeking to change the systems that create an unbalanced economy, with a handful of people holding a majority of the wealth.

"We really are in this together, whether we want to be or not," he said. "I really do think that a new day has come, but it's complicated... . It's not the South I dream of. But this is not the millennium. It's going to get ugly."

The eyes of the world are on the black experience in America, Tyson said. "The voice of the black South" has captured the imagination of the world. There is an obsession with African-American art, music and speech, he said.

"This is a minority, only 12 percent of one country, which is not even the largest country in the world," he said. "... The South has been the crucible for American democracy and the crucible for freedom in the world."

Freedom can be won and it can be lost, as well, Tyson said.

He said blacks were given the right to vote after the Civil War but that it was later taken away by whites through Jim Crow laws that restricted the privileges that had been earned on the battlefield.

He cited the controversy over Charles B. Aycock's place in state history. Aycock, from Wayne County, was revered for decades as the state's "education governor." But Aycock was an admitted "white supremacist," Tyson said, who worked to keep blacks from having equal rights.

Tyson said he would term Aycock "a paternalist," who offered public education as something for the poor whites and the middle class" to gain favor with the people "to preserve the revolution they created through violence."

He said that was the type of world in which the former governor lived.

But it should not be that way today, he said. The movement toward full civil rights is still ongoing.