In the summer of 1904, Percy Munn attends a rally of the Association of Growers of Dark Fired Tobacco in Bardsville, Kentucky. After an impromptu speech pleading for the defense of an “idea,” he joins the association’s board of directors, having been impressed by the leadership of such men as the smooth-talking Senator Tolliver and Captain Todd, a courageous former Confederate officer. He, however, has small success in gaining support for the association.
Curtailing his association activities to defend Bunk Trevelyan, accused of murdering a neighbor, Mr. Munn commits the first of a series of lawless deeds in which he convinces himself that an end justifies the means to attain it. Trusting Bunk’s protestations of innocence, Munn leads an illegal search of the home of an African American in the area to find a knife like the one belonging to Bunk, which had been found at the murder scene. When a knife is found and the African American owner tells an unlikely story of how he got it, Bunk is released and the innocent man dies for the crime.
Two rises in prices paid by the tobacco companies and an association decision to continue holding out brings a public denunciation of the association by Tolliver and a suit to recover his crop. Bitter over Tolliver’s betrayal, Munn joins an activist organization, the secret Ku Klux Klan-like Free Farmers’ Brotherhood of Protection and Control, whose bands of night riders scrape the tobacco beds of farmers who refuse to join the association. Captain Todd, a man of both courage and probity, disapproves of the new group within the old, and withdraws from the association. Munn inwardly defends his own action because he believes the raids will finally bring “justice” to the farmers. He learns, though, that lawlessness...
(The entire section is 729 words.)