North Carolina-based playwright Mike Wiley performed an embodiment of Tim Tyson’s memoir, Blood Done Sign My Name, to round out the evening performances during the 2017 NC Annual Conference. With song, humor, and a sack full of characters, one man, Wiley brought a poignant and living history of life in the 1960’s in Oxford to the Conference stage.
With interactive precision, Wiley and singer, Mary D. Williams, presented and coaxed the audience into singing songs and chants of the civil rights era with gusto in a mastery of encouragement and humor to further populate a witness to this history.
Tyson observes, “Wiley’s great gift is that he can find a way to get to the core meaning of a story and thread it through the artful fabric of drama.”
Threading this artful fabric of drama between the past and present, black and white, and politics and religion, Wiley brought to life the characters and their relationships in the common life of the local community of Oxford, punctuated by black gospel performed by Williams.
Providing the back story for the play and its coming into being, Tyson notes, “I just knew that this (play) was supposed to be. His first draft was four hours long. He listened to every oral tape and has each character down. Even though he plays every character, you always know which character is speaking.”
Based in Oxford, the true story of the 1970 murder of African-American Vietnam veteran Richard “Dickie” Marrow, the trial of three white men, and the protests that followed, this one-man play presents with clarity and relevance the facts of Tyson’s memoir. Marrow, just 23 and awaiting his wife’s delivery of their third daughter, was beaten and shot to death after being accused of looking at a white woman.
Wiley set the stage for the trial court, enlivening witnesses, jury, and officials in the trial, including graphic description of the evidence. Even though Roger Oakley confessed to the murder, he was never indicted. Robert Teel and his son, Larry, were indicted and received acquittals by an all-white jury.
As a playwright and performer, Wiley focuses upon people and events that shape American history, such as Jackie Robinson, Emmett Till, slave Abraham Galloway, and Brown v. Board of Education. “Mike takes the story and captures the heart; and with the magic of his art makes it come alive in a way that is hard for words on paper to do,” muses Tyson as he reflects upon Wiley’s many one man acts.
Wiley explains the reason for his writing and performing Blood Done Sign My Name, “…our freedom and dignity, if we still have any, has been paid for in blood, that we have a contract with our ancestors not to let their sacrifices be in vain.” Tyson writes, “This is about mending the broken world through the power of story, and making scholarship and art speak to the breach in our common life. I am proud to have Mike as a colleague in those efforts.”