A Gathering of Old Men is a story concerned with racism, lynching, and the quandaries faced by the American judicial system. Set on a cane farm in the 1970s, it follows Candy, a white woman, and seventeen elderly black men in their quest to protect one of their number, a man named Mathu, from prosecution for the murder of a local white supremacist on his property. The novel is ambiguous as to Mathu's guilt and paints a strong picture of community moral dilemmas as they relate to racism.
One afternoon, Candy Marshall, a white plantation owner, discovers that a Cajun farmer, Beau Boutan, has been shot in Mathu's, a black man's, yard. She enlists the help of seventeen other old black men by having them come to Mathu's yard, each with a shotgun and one empty number 5 shell. She and the men all claim to be responsible for the murder in an effort to protect the guilty party. Meanwhile, Sheriff Mapes arrives to the scene to arrest the real murderer (most likely Mathu, as he was the only black man who stood up against racism and the Boutans and capable of shooting a shotgun). The sheriff also wishes to keep Beau's father, Fix Boutan, from coming to lynch the Mathu, who he presumes killed Beau.