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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story opens with a brief survey of Robinson Asbury’s rise from a bootblack to an owner of a barbershop-social club for blacks in the town of Cadgers. With this shop as a base, Asbury becomes politically visible and, with the patronage of party managers, the town’s recognized black leader. Because Asbury has further ambitions, he studies law on the side and, with the help of Judge Davis, a white man and the only member of the political establishment with moral principles, is admitted to the bar. Rather than leave the black district and enter the elite class, Asbury opens up a law office next to his barbershop, declaring a loyalty to the black people who gave him his success.

At this point, Paul Laurence Dunbar introduces the antagonist, Silas Bingo, and the central conflict of the story. Bingo and Latchett, partners in a black law firm and envious of Asbury’s rise to power, plot his downfall by creating a new faction within the political party, by gathering all the “best people” to their side, and by co-opting an innocent school principal, Isaac Morton, to be their figurehead. At the Emancipation Day celebration, during which the black leader Asbury heads a procession, the Bingo faction tries to compete with Asbury by organizing a counterprocession but fails. Asbury thus becomes the party’s candidate in the next spring election. When Asbury wins the election, the defeated party cries fraud. In order to clear its name, the winning party searches for a scapegoat. Only Asbury himself has the prominence to ensure a complete purgation. Tried and convicted, he begins his revenge even before his sentence. He makes a public statement at the trial naming all the political leaders as being guilty of criminal acts—all but Judge Davis. Against his own conscience and wishes, Davis sentences his friend to one year in prison. Bingo had betrayed Asbury by joining forces with his accusers, and now he tries to capitalize on Asbury’s absence, but his bid for popular support must contend with a scapegoat suddenly turned martyr.

The second part of the story treats Asbury’s...

(The entire section is 534 words.)