From the Collection: “Lesson Before Dying”
Text from the novel by Ernest J. Gaines
“Lesson Before Dying”
The story takes place in Louisiana in the 1940’s, where a 21 year old uneducated black field worker named Jefferson is wrongfully accused and convicted of robbery and murder of a white man. He is sentenced to die by electrocution. During the proceedings he is called ‘just a dumb animal’ even his defense attorney states electrocuting him would be the same thing as ‘strapping a hog in the electric chair’. His godmother asks the local plantation teacher, Mr. Wiggins, to teach Jefferson ‘to be a man’. They meet over several months and this is the letter Jefferson writes Mr. Wiggins the night before he is to be executed, thanking him.
I always remembered the book and reread it after many years. I was greatly moved by it and wanted to express my sorrow over the injustice portrayed, one that is still occurring.