Killing of Henry Marrow

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Henry Dortress "Dickie" Marrow Jr. (January 7, 1947 – May 12, 1970) was 23 when he was killed in Oxford, North Carolina on May 11, 1970. A black man in a largely segregated community, Marrow was beaten and shot by whites outside a local store. The white proprietor and one of his sons were brought to trial on a charge of murder. Their acquittal by an all-white jury spurred rioting and arson in Oxford. The black community conducted what became an 18-month boycott of white businesses, which ended after the town agreed to end segregation of public facilities. The events in Oxford influenced the broader Civil Rights Movement throughout the United States.


Henry "Dickie" Marrow was born to Henry D. Marrow, Sr. and Ivey Hunt Marrow on January 7, 1947. His parents separated early on, and, when Henry, Sr. died in a violent quarrel, Ivey Marrow could not provide for her son alone. As his mother was working in New Jersey, Marrow lived with his mother's parents in Oxford during his childhood. He moved in with the Chavis family during his adolescence while he attended Mary Potter High School. After his graduation, Marrow, Jr. attended Kittrell College for about a year.

At the age of 19, Henry Marrow, Jr. joined the military and was stationed in Fort Bragg in the same state. Marrow did not like Army life and was unwilling to fight in Vietnam. He often went back home, making the three-hour trip sometimes to see Willie Mae Sidney, whom he would later marry.[1] A 1978 article in The New York Times characterized Marrow as a Vietnam veteran.[2] According to Tyson, Marrow did not serve there.[3] After Marrow was discharged from the Army, he moved back to Oxford.[1]

He started working at Umstead Hospital in Butner. He and Willie May Sidney had two daughters together. She was pregnant with a third child when he was killed in 1970.

Despite passage of federal civil rights legislation, Oxford in 1970 was still largely a segregated community.[4] Robert Teel, a white man, owned a local store. At this time in 1970, he was being boycotted by the local black community after beating a local black schoolteacher, who had gotten into an argument with his wife.[5] Teel had a criminal record and connections to the KKK.[6]


On the evening of May 11, 1970, Henry Marrow and a number of friends were playing whist at the Tidewater Seafood Market, a popular location for young men in town.[3] Just before 9 pm, Marrow left the Tidewater, telling friends that he planned to visit Robert Teel's shop, only 30 meters away, in order to buy Fanny Chavis a Coca-Cola.[7] Robert Teel's 18-year-old son Larry, and Larry's wife Judy, were unpacking motorcycles in the parking lot. Marrow made a remark, the content of which is disputed and unknown.[7] During the subsequent trial, Judy Teel testified that Marrow had spoken "ugly" words to her.[8] Larry Teel shouted, "that's my wife you're talking to," at which point both Robert Teel and his stepson Roger Oakley, who had been working nearby, ran into the shop. According to onlookers, they retrieved their guns.[7] Later describing Marrow's killing, Robert Teel said in a recorded account: "that nigger committed suicide, coming in here wanting to four-letter-word my daughter-in-law."[6][9]

Marrow told Larry Teel he was speaking to two African-American women standing nearby, an explanation Larry did not accept. Larry tried to hit Marrow with a wooden block, and Marrow drew a knife, while slowly backing away. Edward Webb, a witness at the Tidewater, said that he and other young men tried to convince Marrow to leave, before running.[7] Boo Chavis, a friend of Marrow, later said that Marrow "didn't believe in running", adding "that's probably why he's dead."[7] Marrow finally fled after Oakley and Robert Teel emerged from the Teel shop carrying two shotguns and a rifle.[7]

According to Tyson, Teel fired his shotgun at Marrow, striking him and also wounding Chavis, who had just happened onto the scene.[10] Teel fired a second time, knocking Marrow to the ground; Oakley shot him twice with a shotgun.[10] At this point, Marrow was still conscious, bleeding on the ground. Roger Oakley, Robert and Larry Teel approached him, and began to beat him, while Robert Teel repeatedly exclaimed "kill him."[6] According to witness Evelyn Downey, the three men stood around Marrow kicking him, while Robert Teel shouted, "shoot the son of a bitch, shoot the son of bitching nigger."[8] According to Tyson, either Robert or Larry fired a single bullet from the .22 rifle into Marrow's head.[10] At trial, Oakley testified that he had held the gun that fired the killing shot, discharged accidentally when his stepfather had jarred his shoulder.[8][11] Chavis testified that Larry Teel shot Marrow.[8] The Teels locked up their shop and left for home, while Boo Chavis, his brother Jimmy, and Webb collected Marrow, still living, and took him to Granville County Hospital.[10]

After doctors failed to stabilize him, Marrow was taken from Granville to Duke University Medical Center; he died on the way there.[12]


The Marrow killing prompted demonstrations related to the Civil Rights Movement in Granville County, five years after passage of major federal legislation to end segregation and enforce voting rights. On the day of Marrow's funeral, mourners marched from the gravesite to the Confederate monument in downtown Oxford, where leaders spoke about the significance of the killing. A similar march was held the next day.[citation needed]

Arson was committed against white businesses. The burning of several warehouses and shops was estimated to have caused $1 million in damages.[8] Rumors flew that Vietnam veterans were responsible. Because of the civil unrest related to the murder, the city established a four-day curfew.[5]

At the murder trial, an all-white jury was picked, and returned a verdict of not guilty on all counts for the charges against the Teels and Oakley.[6] Later that year, Marrow's widow filed a wrongful death civil suit against the Teels.[13]

After the murder trial, Benjamin Chavis, a local civil rights organizer and leader of the local chapter of the NAACP, led a protest march from Oxford to the state capital. After that, he and other black people conducted a "boycott of white businesses that lasted 18 months" and finally achieved full integration in Oxford.[14] It was later alleged that Chavis had offered to pay $5,000 for the death of one of the Teels.[15]

Henry Marrow's grave is marked with a military headstone showing his name, rank and state, date of birth and death, and the word "Vietnam".[3]

Book and movie[edit]

Timothy Tyson, a childhood friend of Teel's younger son and later a historian, wrote a book, Blood Done Sign My Name (2004). It recounted the events related to the death of Henry Marrow in his former hometown, and related them to broader social issues of the time and the racial history of the area.[16]

The book was adapted as a film by the same name, released in 2010. Filmed in several cities in North Carolina, it was directed by Jeb Stuart and starred Ricky Schroder, Nate Parker, and Nick Searcy.[17]


  1. ^ a b Tyson, 2004, pp.119-120
  2. ^ King, Wayne (December 3, 1978). "The Case Against the Wilmington Ten". The New York Times. Retrieved November 16, 2012. ...Henry Marrow , a black Vietnam veteran and high school classmate of Mr. Chavis's... 
  3. ^ a b c Tyson, 2004, p.120
  4. ^ Minchin, Timothy (July 2006). "Beyond the Dominant Narrative: The Ongoing Struggle for Civil Rights in the US South, 1968-1980". Australasian Journal of American Studies. 25 (2): 71. 
  5. ^ a b "Trial at Oxford: Defendant 'Didn't Have Gun in Hand'". The Dispatch. July 31, 1970. p. 7. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Oxford Still Scarred By 1970 Racial Killing". WRAL. 11 May 2004. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Tyson, 2004, p.122
  8. ^ a b c d e "Father, son, killed man, witness says". The Afro American. August 8, 1970. pp. 1–2. 
  9. ^ Tyson, 2004, p.293
  10. ^ a b c d Tyson, 2004, p.123-5
  11. ^ "Shopping Complex Gutted By Fire". Herald-Journal. Associated Press. February 10, 1971. p. 2. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  12. ^ Tyson, 2004, p.126
  13. ^ "Widow Files Suit". The Sumter Daily Item. Associated Press. August 6, 1970. p. 10A. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  14. ^ "Hero or racist? Hometown split on NAACP's Chavis". The Atlanta Journal and The Atlanta Constitution. August 19, 1994. 
  15. ^ "Witness Tells Jury Chavis Offered Him $5,000 to Kill". Herald-Journal. Associated Press. April 20, 1972. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  16. ^ Yardley, Jonathan (May 23, 2004). "A candid account of an ugly episode in the last days of Jim Crow North Carolina". Washington Post. p. BW02. Retrieved November 9, 2012. 
  17. ^ Scott, A. O. (February 18, 2010). "A Town Torn Asunder by Racial Killing in '70". The New York Times. Retrieved November 7, 2012. 


  • Tyson, Timothy. Blood Done Sign My Name. New York: Crown Publishers, 2004.

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