ThePresence of Racism in A Lesson BeforeDying Racism is present throughout the entire book;in fact, it is the main focus. It begins with Jefferson being falsely accusedof murder and sentenced to death. This is almost definitely because a white manwas murdered and Jefferson is black. Throughout the rest of the book racism isa continuing theme such as when the Superintendent comes to inspect Grant’sclass.
Also, again when Afterbeing accused of murder, Jefferson, a twenty-one-year-old black male is ontrial. His race is used by the defense as a way to excuse his charges. That heis not a man, and he is not educated enough to plan a robbery or murder. Theycall him a fool and he does not even know the months in a year and that he is ahog. As the defense says “Gentlemen, this skull holds no plans. What you seehere is a thing that acts on command. A thing to hold the handle of a plow, athing to load your bales of cotton, a thing to dig your ditches, to chop yourwood, to pull your corn”(Gaines 7).
Both the defense and the prosecutor speakof him as if he is a slave, instead of a human being. Furthermore, the jury ismade up of twelve white men who see themselves superior to African Americans. Anotherexample of the presence of racism in this book is when Dr. Morgan, thesuperintendent, comes to inspect Grant’s class. While Dr. Morgan is there, hepicks out a couple students which are obviously not at the top of their classand questions them.
He asked them to recite verses from the bible and checkedtheir teeth and hygiene. After Dr. Morgan did his inspection, Grant thinks of howsimilar it is to a slave owner’s inspection. Additionally, when thesuperintendent tells Grant that there needs to be more emphasis on hygiene,Grant complains that many students can’t afford toothbrushes. Dr. Morgansuggests that they go work in the fields saying, “Get them off their lazybutts, they can make enough for a dozen toothbrushes in one evening” (Gaines49). However, this money usually goes to helping their families.
Onelast example of racism in A Lesson Before Dying is how Mr. Pichot, Sheriff SamGuidry, 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 dumband not use proper Grammar because he is black.
The men are irritated withGrant 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).Theseare just three examples of how prevalent racism was in this book, and also thistime period and how normal it was for most people. After the civil war endedand slaves were “freed” they were not truly free.
The oppression of African Americansin this book was continued through separate schools, bathrooms, etc.