Presence of Racism in A Lesson Before
Racism is present throughout the entire book;
in fact, it is the main focus. It begins with Jefferson being falsely accused
of murder and sentenced to death. This is almost definitely because a white man
was murdered and Jefferson is black. Throughout the rest of the book racism is
a continuing theme such as when the Superintendent comes to inspect Grant’s
class. Also, again when
being accused of murder, Jefferson, a twenty-one-year-old black male is on
trial. His race is used by the defense as a way to excuse his charges. That he
is not a man, and he is not educated enough to plan a robbery or murder. They
call him a fool and he does not even know the months in a year and that he is a
hog. As the defense says “Gentlemen, this skull holds no plans. What you see
here is a thing that acts on command. A thing to hold the handle of a plow, a
thing to load your bales of cotton, a thing to dig your ditches, to chop your
wood, to pull your corn”(Gaines 7). Both the defense and the prosecutor speak
of him as if he is a slave, instead of a human being. Furthermore, the jury is
made up of twelve white men who see themselves superior to African Americans.
example of the presence of racism in this book is when Dr. Morgan, the
superintendent, comes to inspect Grant’s class. While Dr. Morgan is there, he
picks out a couple students which are obviously not at the top of their class
and questions them. He asked them to recite verses from the bible and checked
their teeth and hygiene. After Dr. Morgan did his inspection, Grant thinks of how
similar it is to a slave owner’s inspection. Additionally, when the
superintendent tells Grant that there needs to be more emphasis on hygiene,
Grant complains that many students can’t afford toothbrushes. Dr. Morgan
suggests that they go work in the fields saying, “Get them off their lazy
butts, they can make enough for a dozen toothbrushes in one evening” (Gaines
49). However, this money usually goes to helping their families.
last example of racism in A Lesson Before Dying is how Mr. Pichot, Sheriff Sam
Guidry, and Louis make Grant wait for two hours before bothering to see him.
They treat Grant as if they are superior to him. They expect him to act dumb
and not use proper Grammar because he is black. The men are irritated with
Grant when he proves that he is an educated man. “You’re smart, Guildry said.
Maybe just a little too smart for your own good” (Gaines 58).
are just three examples of how prevalent racism was in this book, and also this
time period and how normal it was for most people. After the civil war ended
and slaves were “freed” they were not truly free. The oppression of African Americans
in this book was continued through separate schools, bathrooms, etc.