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A Brief Look at ‘A Lesson Before Dying’

April 19, 2013 by admin

A Column

By Elicia Phillips

   I would like to encourage everyone who loves to read, to add the novel, A Lesson before Dying, to your book list and take part in the Big Read here at Brookdale Community College. This book, which is set in the late 1940’s, is written by Earnest Gaines, an African-American author who highlights the injustice that a black man had to face due to racism and prejudice.
   This black man named Jefferson in the novel, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when two white men murdered another white man. However, because Jefferson was the only witness left alive and due to the fact that he was black, the charge of murder was placed on his head.
   Though his fate was already decided because of his race; the court followed through with due process and gave him a trial. His legal representative added insult to injury by calling Jefferson an animal, to be more specific, ‘a hog,’ incapable of planning a robbery and murder thereby being innocent of murder. This highly insulting racist representation did no justice to Jefferson’s character, and he was subsequently sentenced to death.
   A Lesson before Dying details the journey of Jefferson, a victim of racism and a teacher of the same race who attempts to restore Jefferson back to a manhood after he was emotionally raped and brainwashed to thinking he was nothing but an animal. The book is a worthy read, and it speaks of issues that follow us into the present.
   As a young black woman, I have looked in the past to see the cruel injustice done to the African race, and I am alive today to see how much has changed. The President of the United States is a black man, something like that would be inconceivable many years ago, and today any levelheaded person can see how equal we all are, no matter what race we are.
   However, racism is still very much alive today. After I read A Lesson before Dying, I must say Earnest Gaines did a wonderful job showing how black people were treated much differently. The black schools received a lower quality education than the schools for whites. There were cinemas for blacks and cinemas for whites. This is just a few of the many restrictions placed on black people.
   A Lesson before Dying, for anyone who has not read it yet, literally takes you from the present back into the past and you can feel the struggle of the characters especially Jefferson, and the racism and prejudice that he experiences.
   Times have changed but unfortunately racism is still alive. It exists in the workforce, in college and universities; everywhere you go, there will be someone with racist beliefs. Just a few months ago, I met two male students who expressed that they felt a white woman was being racist because as she walked beside them she clutched her purse to her tighter under her arm. Both students quite humorously laughed it off but were annoyed that people can still view every black man as a robber or even a rapist. I myself have experienced similar situations.
   I believe that having a voice is important, and I encourage everyone no matter what race you are, that if you were to experience racism in any form to use your voice. Suppressing it doesn’t change the situation, emulate Earnest Gaines and maybe even write a book of your own. I would be elated to read it!
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