Published in 1983, A Gathering of Old Men is the fifth novel from plantation-born African-American writer Ernest J. Gaines. Perhaps most famous for writing The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman, the author here focuses not only on the masculine face of racial discrimination, but engages the technique of multiple narration to reveal how institutional racism affects society as well as the individual.
In a narrative taking place over the course of a single day, a large group of old black men have gathered at the house where a white man lies dead in the yard. Each of the old men claims responsibility for the shooting as the white sheriff terrorizes them with his investigation.
Although the profound effect of racism upon both black and white society is pervasive throughout the novel, another theme subtly begins to emerge which rises to take its place alongside prejudice as one of the story's most prominent concerns. As the investigation bent on solving the mystery of who really pulled the trigger inexorably moves forward, twists and turns reveal that—almost as a counterpoint of the story of Miss Jane Pittman—the primary concern with racism is how it affects the maturation of boys into men. The attainment of manhood lies as the center of A Gathering of Old Men.
Like Miss Pittman, the old men would also go on to have their story told in a made-for-TV film adaptation. The film, which aired in 1987, starred Louis Gossett and Richard Widmark.