SANFORD — Tinder and match came together in the small town of Oxford, N.C., on the rainy night of May 11, 1970, fueling the fire of the African-American struggle for full equality in North Carolina.
That night, two white assailants brutally shot Dickie Marrow, a 23-year-old black Vietnam War veteran. One of the men accused Marrow of insulting his wife. Marrow died from his wounds and Oxford’s black community was enraged.
On February 17, an audience gathered at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center to watch North Carolina actor and playwright Mike Wiley share this dramatic story. Wiley created his one-actor play, “Blood Done Sign My Name,” from the autobiographical history of the same name by author Timothy Tyson. Tyson lived through the aftermath of that experience as a white child growing up in Oxford, the son of the Rev. Vernon Tyson. The pastor served at Jonesboro Methodist Church, in Sanford, during the 1960s before going to Oxford.
Central Carolina Community College presented Wiley’s show as part of its Black History Month events.
“This is a depiction of the times we were living in then,” said Theresa Cry, of the college’s Black History Month events committee. “It’s important that we remember the history so we can move on.”
Wiley played the roles of all the characters, including Robert Teel, who allegedly shot Marrow but was found “not guilty” by an all-white jury. Anger over the murder ran through the black community, flamed by men such as Marrow’s cousin, Ben Chavis, who would later head the NAACP.
Newspapers ran headlines such as “Father and son charged in fatal shooting,” and “Hit-run groups smash windows; Mayor Currie invokes curfew” about the murder and the resulting riot. The murder galvanized not just African-Americans in Oxford, but those fighting for civil rights all over the state.
“I hope this sheds light on the culture and history of America,” Wiley said after the show. “We’re all a quilt, we’re all interconnected; we’re all together as one. By doing this play, I hope to let some light shine on that. If we don’t realize we are interconnected, it will all fall apart.”
With dialog, pictures projected on a large screen, audience interaction, and singing of spirituals by performer Rozlyn Sorrell, Wiley drew the audience into the drama.
Denise Stroud, of Sanford, had not known of the Marrow murder before seeing the play. She was impressed.
“It’s history,” she said following the show. “It’s good for people to see what happened and how far we have come and come together.”
At the end, Wiley extended a challenge to the audience members to search out in their communities and families those willing to fight for what is right.
“Go out and find the heroes in your community,” he said. “We hear about people such as Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Sojourner Truth, but there might be someone like that in your ancestry. Let it be a source of pride.”