LaGuardia’s “Lesson” Forum


(Ten Years and Four Years)

Ten Years ago Matthew Shepard was murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.  Four years ago LaGuardia Community College chose Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project as its common reading.  I raise this here because the 2004-5 common reading and A Lesson Before Dying are not unrelated.  The intolerance that killed Mr. Shepard is at the root of the unjust trial that convicted Jefferson in Gaines’s novel.  I really wish that 10/4 could mean “over and out” as it does in radio slang.

Lynching is Terrorism; imagination is just as powerful as truth.  While this year’s pick, A Lesson Before Dying, is fictional, it is all too true in terms of the underlying prejudice it covers/exposes. As I was reading A Lesson Before Dying this morning in preparation for class tomorrow I was struck with the idea that the underlying tragedy of the kangaroo court that convicted Jefferson was that it, the trial, civil justice, was actually an improvement over the lynch law it replaced.  The intolerant and (over-)empowered majority has little faith in its institutions.  This might be because they are based on the Constitution and enforced by (often) impartial professionals.

Matthew Shepard was Lynched.  Make no mistake about it.  This was brought home to me as I listened to this timely and intelligent report on NPR.  The more I thought about it, the more I saw a theme of A Lesson Before Dying that I had overlooked.  The reason that there is a trial is because there is enough confidence in the white supremacist system in the 1940s Louisiana Cajun community that they didn’t need to take him out and string him up immediately.  As I looked over the LaGuardia site compiled by the library and Will Koolsbergen I was struck by how far we have come: the status of hetero supremacy has been chased far enough into the corner that the bigots were eventually brought to justice.

On a tangentially related note I heard this story on On The Media about how there is a whispering campaign that undermines one of the presidential candidates “American-ness.”  This innuendo is like the undermining of Matthew Shepard’s humanity by challenging his masculinity.  Now I am not saying that one political camp is calling for the assassination of the standard-bearer of the other, but this type of sub-conscious challenge (in the minds of sociopaths) is what led to the crucifixion of Matthew Shepard.

I am interested in how, or why, you think these cases are like or unlike one another.


October 13, 2008 Posted by | a lesson before dying, circumstantial evidence, Common Reading, crucifixion, death penalty, homophobia, innuendo, laguardia community college, LaGuardia Community College Common Reading, laramie project, lynch law, masculinity, Matthew Shepard | Leave a comment