DURHAM - On a sweltering summer day in 2001, Vernon Tyson turned up the heat as he and his son Tim strolled through New Orleans' Garden District.Peder Zane on Tim Tyson.
"What do you want to do?" the father asked.
The men had come to the Deep South as part of an innovative history class Tim was teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The father, a United Methodist minister, often cut to the human heart of matters, so his son knew this question wasn't about where they should eat.
"At first I thought it was strange," Tim Tyson recalled. A 42-year-old father of two, professor of Afro-American Studies and author of the prizewinning biography "Radio Free Dixie: Robert F. Williams and the Roots of Black Power," he was not exactly adrift. But his father rightly suspected that his son had broader aspirations.
Before he could answer, something even stranger happened. A huge mockingbird -- "twice as big as any you've ever seen" -- swooped down three feet in front of them. It started singing, loud as could be, in music Tyson could only describe as jazz. They stood there, astonished.
"That's what I want to do," Tim declared.