Perhaps the aspect of most commonly commended is the insight it offers readers into life under Jim Crow racial laws.
Within this, critics often point to its centering of Black experiences and its recognition of the importance of community and cooperation to many Black Americans, both past and present.
Grant tells the reader how Jefferson accepted a lift from two other Black men and traveled by car with them to a liquor store where the other men requested drinks on credit.
When the store owner refused, things quickly escalated into a shootout in which the store owner and the two men were all killed.
He also explains that, because of this, Jefferson’s response to death will be important to the whole Black community.
The question of whether he dies with dignity and self-respect will influence their dignity and self-respect, too.
In his diary entries, the reader also learns that he is far more introspective, articulate, and aware than had been previously suggested.
The novel ends with Grant in his schoolroom, his students all kneeling in prayer at the moment Jefferson is to be executed.
A white deputy who had bonded with Jefferson informs Grant that the execution is over and offers Grant his friendship and Jefferson’s diary.
In the story’s final moments, Grant informs his students that Jefferson is dead and, both grieving for his friend and recognizing the positive impact Jefferson’s dignified death has had on the Black and white communities alike, he begins to cry.