Twenty-three year old black Vietnam veteran Henry “Dickie” Marrow had just returned home to Oxford, North Carolina in 1970.
His tragic murder by whites just days after his return prompted the small town’s black community to stand up and fight back.
The town’s story is the backdrop for the upcoming film Blood Done Sign My Name.
Marrow’s cousin, Dr. Benjamin Chavis, was only 22 and teaching in Oxford at the time of the murder. He immediately took action.
“There was nothing in my DNA or genetic makeup that was going to allow that to happen without some kind of challenge,” Chavis said. “There had been a long list of racial murders. Our cup had runneth over.”
Chavis led an economic boycott of white-owned businesses in the area. He said the nonviolent act changed the relationships between blacks and whites and helped desegregate the town.
“I thought a boycott was a way to channel all of the anger my community had in a positive way,” Chavis said. “We all discovered we had power in our own hands. It was just a matter of using it.”
Actor Nate Parker ( The Great Debators, The Secret Life of Bees) portrays Chavis in the film.
“Dr. Chavis was a hero in our community,” Parker said. “He didn’t wait for the elders, he didin’t wait for anything but that moment of action.”
Chavis said Blood Done Sign My Name is not just a story of the Civil Rights era. He cites such issues as high incarceration and dropout rates for blacks today as evidence the struggle must continue.
“To me in 2010, there’s more reason to have a Civil Rights Movement today than we had in the 1960s and the 1970s,” Chavis said. “But you have to be conscious of oppression. If you are conscious, you can be inspired and motivated to do something about it.”