We start in medias res (that means "in the middle of things," for you non-Latin readers out there) in a courtroom, where a judge named Otis L. Warren is trying to quiet people down.
It looks like a bunch of people want Gracie Johnson hanged, and they aren't afraid to chant it in the courtroom.
Finally Judge Warren instructs someone to escort all the people in the "colored" section out of the building.
We interrupt this program for a little history snack. This book takes place back when segregation limited interaction between the races in parks, libraries, billiard halls, schools, restaurants, bathrooms, bus stations, markets, theaters, bars, hotels, pools, and even brothels. And by limited, we mean there was a whole lot of preferential treatment for white folks, and a whole lot of rules dictating which places Black people were allowed to use and how they were allowed to use them. In the case of our story, all the Black people are sitting in one section of the courthouse.
Now back to the show.
It looks like Ben Corbett is Gracie Johnson's lawyer because he objects to the judge's ruling. None of the Black people make a peep—it's all the white guys who are rowdy. So why don't they have to leave?
We learn a little bit more about what's going on: Gracie is on trial for murdering Lydia Davenport, but she doesn't deserve to be.
Since Gracie is Black and Lydia is white, our narrator (ahem, Ben Corbett) worries whether the trial will be fair. It's 1906, after all—in fact, he's pretty sure they'll hang Gracie before her trial's even over.