Who is Will Mayes?

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Will Mayes is the protagonist of "Dry September." He's an African American man in a small Southern town who's rumored to have had some unspecified kind of involvement with an unmarried white woman by the name of Minnie Cooper. At that time and in that place, even the vaguest suggestion of sexual relations between the races was considered completely unacceptable, especially if it involved a black man and a white woman. In such a deeply prejudiced society, mix-raced couples were generally regarded as a threat to the purity of the white race. As it was considered such a serious transgression of the prevailing social norms, it was often punished with extreme violence. All across the South, black men could be lynched with impunity for so much as looking at a white woman the wrong way.

And that's what happens to Will Mayes in "Dry September." An enraged mob of white men kidnaps and murders Will purely on the basis of rumor and gossip. It's perfectly clear that Will's lynching has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with consolidating white supremacy. Will is murdered for nothing more than being African American.

The feeding frenzy of hatred is so strong that even normally decent, reasonable people get caught up in the hysteria surrounding the lynching. The ex-soldier, for instance, initially urges caution, but subsequently participates in Will's brutal murder. A man by the name of Hawkshaw also gets involved, despite initially intending to stop the lynching. But such terrible violence has an unstoppable dynamic all of its own, and soon there's nothing anyone can do to prevent Will Mayes from being brutally murdered for the "crime" of being black in a small Southern town.

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