A Lesson Before Dying

Real life confession, this book A Lesson Before Dying  by Ernest J. Gaines ,has been on my book shelf FOREVER. The story is set in a small Cajun community in the late 1940s. Jefferson, a young black man, is an unwitting party to a liquor store shoot out in which three white men are killed. As the only survivor, he is convicted of murder and sentenced to death. Grant Wiggins, the plantation school teacher, is persuaded by his aunt and Jefferson’s godmother to visit Jefferson in his cell and impart his wisdom (to make him a man before he dies). My career is emotional enough, and so is life. It seems like every time I pick up my paper off my doorstep another young man of color has been shot. Looking at the latest dead black man staring back at me from my morning paper, I made a decision to read the damn book. Ignorance is not bliss. I am glad I read it- here’s my review.

 The book should be placed on the mandatory reading list of every high school student and read consecutively with To Kill a Mockingbird. They both deliver lessons (from two very different perspectives) of the inherent injustice of racially defined societal hierarchies, life decisions, capital punishment, segregation, and acceptance. Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying is well-written with a thoughtful and interesting plot, but he didn’t create a completely satisfying story around it. This could have been something that made you stop and take a deep breath at the conclusion (think Richard Wright’s Black Boy , Ralph Ellison’s  Invisible Man), and really reflect on the themes and drama. When Grant does reach Jefferson, the novel abruptly ends with his death (that is not a spoiler- the book is called A Lesson before Dying). The most effective passage in the book is Jefferson’s diary, which could stand alone as a short story (it was powerful, reflective, and poignant.). Finishing this book, I reflected on the article (Teachers tackle racial bias: ‘We’re tired of waiting’  by Paige Cornwell) They have some great ideas. My idea  would be to make the articles below apart of the curriculum ,  ask students to bring in their own articles of interest and then assign them the  “My take’ assignment. The local paper is looking for personal essays  of no more than 400 words with strong opinions. Then have each student submit their submission.

How can the nation reverse culture of fear? by Leonard Pitts

Why black mothers live in fear of the police by Angelique M. Davis

Why I Fled St. Louis by Ace Robinson

Video provides evidence of our racial divide  by Leonard Pitts

Blacks are getting tired of asking nicely for justice   by Leonard Pitts

Music video Better Get It Right the First Time -Rhiannon Giddens

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