A Lesson Before Dying

by: Ernest J. Gaines

Justice/Injustice

Quotes Justice/Injustice
A cornered animal to strike quickly out of fear, a trait inherited from his ancestors in the deepest jungle of blackest Africa—yes, yes, that he can do—but to plan? To plan, gentlemen of the jury? No, gentlemen, this skull holds no plans.

Jefferson’s defense lawyer resorts to racism as his strategy, even comparing Jefferson’s capital punishment to putting a hog in an electric chair. He claims that Jefferson is innocent because he lacks the intelligence needed to plan a murder and thatJefferson, like other blacks, can only obey commands. The all-white, all-male jury convicts him in hours, typical of justice in the deep South at the time.

“Many of the books I have to use are hand-me-downs from the white schools, Dr. Joseph,” I said. “And they have missing pages. How can I—” “Are you questioning me, Higgins?” “No, sir, Dr. Joseph. I was just—”

When Dr. Joseph, the superintendent, visits the school, Grant tries to explain that he needs more supplies and more books, including complete texts. However, the injustice of segregation prevents him from being granted such a request. Dr. Joseph doesn’t even care enough to use Grant’s correct last name, Wiggins. His visit exists as a perfunctory sham. Dr. Joseph doesn’t care about the school, the teacher, or the students.

The humiliation I had to go through, going into that man’s kitchen. The hours I had to wait while they ate and drank and socialized before they would even see me.

Grant accuses his aunt of being complicit in his humiliation in front of the sheriff. He says that she helped strip him of everything his education taught him. He waited in the kitchen for two and half hours, standing, refusing food and coffee, after the white sheriff told him to be there at 5 p.m. Such an injustice, to be completely disrespected and disregarded simply because of the color of your skin, commonly occurred in that place and time.

Twelve white men say a black man must die, and another white man sets the date and time without consulting one black person. Justice?

Grant has just learned the date and time of Jefferson’s execution and muses on the injustice of the whole situation. He has been summoned to Henri Pichot’s house to hear the news from Sheriff Guidry along with Reverend Ambrose. He comments that the white men are playing God by choosing the time of another man’s death.

This had been discussed and agreed at church last Sunday. Those who were not at church were told what the others had decided, that he, Jefferson, should have all their respect this one day.

The entire community comes together on the day of the execution. Their intention: to show support for Jefferson and his family. Grant has all students kneel from noon until he knows that Jefferson is dead. The entire community, churchgoers and not, remains quiet and attentive that day. As legal justice is served, so is social justice. Jefferson dies a hero in the eyes of his family, friends, and community, just as his nannan, or godmother, Miss Emma, wanted.