A Gathering of Old Men is Ernest J. Gaines' case against the south. Set in the thoroughly prejudiced area of Bayonne Louisiana, the story revolves around an investigation into the murder of an overseer at a local plantation. Although the true murderer is largely absent from the dramatic action, all of the hands on the plantation as well as the part owner, Candy, confess to the crime when the sheriff arrives. They're covering for Mathu, whom everyone believes is guilty, but who actually is as innocent as all the rest. In the end, some local racists out for blood arrive and start a shootout, ending with one white man injured, another dead, and a black man -- the actual murderer -- dead.
The significance of how the plantation hands defend Mathu is given the greatest of care in Gaines' narration. Each of these men, some white and some black, have seen more than their fair share of violence in the past. Lynchings are common within their lifetime, especially in this town. When the old hands hear of the murder, they immediately rally behind one another. If one is going to fall, then they all will. This mentality is the direct result of past experience. Remember, these are old men, meaning they prioritize peace differently than perhaps a more reckless youth. Since racially motivated violence inevitably leads to danger for the entire plantation, these men take it upon themselves to all stand together.