A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J Gaines
Jefferson goes to the local liquor store with two friends. One of the guys tries to get the store keeper to give him a bottle on credit. An argument erupts and the friend pulls out a gun. The store keeper has one too. So after a gunfight, the only one standing is Jefferson. He is convicted of the murders and sentenced to death.
It's the late 1940;s in Louisiana. Jefferson has never had the breaks Grant had. Grant managed to get to college. He has returned to teach in the black school. His aunt is a friend of Miss Emma, who is Jefferson's godmother. Together the two old ladies pressure Grant to teach Jefferson to be a man before his execution. But Grant has not earned the respect of the white community with his accomplishments and has grown detached from everyone.
But while he teaches Jefferson the value of life, he learns it himself.