Pre-Test / QEP Reflection
In this passage below from Just Mercy, Bryan Stephenson reflects on a short story “Of the Coming of John” from W.E. B. DuBois’s Souls of Black Folk. In the short story John, a Black, college-educated man, builds a school for Black children. The judge in the town, who had originally agreed to the school, shuts it down when he hears that John has been teaching about racial freedom and equality. Later, when John sees his sister sexually harassed by the judge’s son, John strikes him with a piece of wood. John is lynched for the assault. Stephenson reflects on this story as he wages his own fight for justice for Walter, a black man falsely accused of the murder of a young white woman by a corrupt legal system.
Read the following passage from Just Mercy. Reflect on the passage’s point about what you owe your family and your community. Think about how that “debt” has influenced your choices, even your choice to come to college. What do you owe your community? What do you owe your family? How do these “debts” motivate you? How do they burden you?
I read the story several times in college because I identified with John as the hope of an entire community. None of my aunts or uncles had graduated from college; many hadn’t graduated from high school. The people in my church always encouraged me and never asked me for anything back, but I felt a debt accumulating. DuBois understood this dynamic deeply and brought it to life in a way that absolutely fascinated me. (I just hoped that my parallel with John wouldn’t extend to the getting lynched part.)
Driving home that night from meeting Walter’s family, I thought of the story in a whole new way. I had never before considered how devastated John’s community must have felt after his lynching. Things would become so much harder for the people who had given everything to help make John a teacher. For the surviving black community, there would be more obstacles to opportunity and progress and much heartache. John’s education had led not to liberation and progress but to violence and tragedy. There would be more distrust, more animosity, and more injustice.
Walter’s family and most poor black people in his community were similarly burdened by Walter’s conviction. Even if they hadn’t been at his house the day of the crime, most black people in Monroeville knew someone who had been with Walter that day. The pain in that trailer was tangible—I could feel it. The community seemed desperate for some hope of justice. The realization left me anxious yet determined.
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