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Sunday, March 22, 2020

"Of the Coming of John," The Classic Short Story by W.E.B. Du Bois

     In 1903, W.E.B, Du Bois included in his seminal work, The Souls of Black Folk, a brilliant but haunting short story, "Of the Coming of John." In Du Bois's story, a young black man in coastal Georgia is sent off hundreds of miles to a school that trains black teachers. The entire black community where he was born had raised the money for his tuition. The community invests in John so that he can one day return and teach African American children who are barred from attending the public school. Casual and fun-loving, John almost flunks out of his new school until he considers the trust he's been given and the shame he would face if he returned without graduating. Newly focused, sober, and intensely committed to succeed, he graduates with honors and returns to his community intent on changing things.

     John convinces the white judge who controls the town to allow him to open a school for black children. His education has empowered him, and he has strong opinions about racial freedom and equality that land him and the black community in trouble. The judge shuts down the school when he hears what John's been teaching. John walks home after the school's closing frustrated and distraught. On the trip home he sees his sister being groped by the judge's adult son and he reacts violently, striking the man in the head with a piece of wood. John continues home to say goodbye to his mother. Du Bois ends the tragic story when the furious judge catches up with John with the lynch mob he has assembled.

Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, 2014

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