A Gathering of Old Men (1983) by Ernest J. Gaines is a novel about race relations in the American South. The action takes place over the course of one day in rural Louisiana. A white man has been shot dead and lies in the yard of a black man's house. Eighteen old black men gather at the house and each claims that he is responsible for the killing. The brutal white sheriff conducts his investigation as the old men await the revenge of the dead man's relatives, who have a fearsome, longstanding reputation for exacting vigilante justice against black people. By the end of the day, there have been many surprises, and many of the characters have changed in ways that they could not have imagined. The conclusion of the novel hints that although the wounds of the past run deep and still influence the present, times are changing, and in the future, black people can hold out hope for a new era in which everyone is treated equally under the law.
A Gathering of Old Men was Gaines's fifth novel. Gaines is an African American who was born and raised on a plantation in Louisiana, a fictional version of which is the setting for all of his work. His novels and short stories have been widely acclaimed for the accuracy with which he captures the language of rural African Americans in Louisiana, and the way he envisions the possibility of positive change for his characters, even those who are caught in the most difficult of circumstances.