The young black man was walking to the store when he supposedly insulted a white woman. The store owner and his son, allegedly chased the black man, beat him and shot and him dead. No, this wasn’t Emmett Till. And this tragedy didn’t happen in the 1950s. The victim was Henry Marrow, and the year was 1970.
The town – Oxford, N.C.
Playwright Mike Wiley recalls this little known tragedy during his performance of “Blood Done Sign My Name” March 17-20 to the Booth Playhouse. Wiley performed the play at ImaginOn to a nearly sold out show in February 2010. Thankfully, the schedulers at Blumenthal didn’t relegate this year’s staging of the play to the Black History Month ghetto. Even though it’s historical play, we get to see it this month!
“Blood Done Signed My Name” examines how the murder of Henry “Dickie” Marrow in 1970 nearly ripped the town of Oxford apart. (It is based on Tim Tyson’s memoir of the same name.) Tyson’s memoir was also made into a movie last year. It starred Nate Parker (“The Great Debaters”) as Ben Chavis. Parts of the “Blood” the movie were filmed in the Charlotte area.
Marrow’s death and the subsequent acquittal of the two white primary suspects led to angry marches by African Americans as well as the firebombing of white-owned tobacco warehouses. Tyson’s father Vernon was a Methodist preacher who tried to unite the community.
After seeing the play last year, I realized that Wiley’s work not only exposed audiences to a little known piece of American history, but it revealed a local connection to the Oxford tragedy. Charlotte attorney James Ferguson was a special assistant to the Oxford prosecutor in the 1970 case.
Ferguson attended last year’s performance at ImaginOn. In an interview after the play, he said cases like this reminds us of the need to remain vigilant in the fight against injustice.
Read more about the play at Crossroadscharlotte.org
Read my interview with playwright Mike Wiley.