DUST is an historical novel based on the 1947 lynching of Willie Earle (a young black man) by a mob of taxi drivers in Greenville, South Carolina. It treats largely of one of Willie’s redneck assassins, Caleb Bart (fictional, but authentic in the character of such persons).
Caleb is a former World War II hero with no war left to fight except within himself. He is poor, shabby, shiftless, bitter and is entrapped in a loveless marriage to Bible-toating Winona who quotes him Scriptural verses and platitudes, but rarely sleeps with him any more. He is a walking time bomb who must get vengeance against somebody fast! When Willie Earle is suspected of killing a fellow taxi driver, Caleb Bart is suddenly electrified like the Frakenstein monster and leads the others in the lynching.
Caleb is betrayed by his girlfriend (Eunice Perry) to his best friend, Clovis Tully (policeman) for standing her up one night. Clovis turns Caleb in (as vengeance for Caleb having stolen Eunice from him in the first place). Historically, all the lynchers were brought to trial, but were pronounced not guilty and freed. Caleb Bart and the others had hoped to have their personal demons exorcised by their bloody act, but Caleb (particularly) is soon thrust into a series of unexpected dilemmas.
Willie (hopeless of prosperity in these bigoted times) moves through life like a broken automaton. Then he is re-united with a black boyhood friend when the friend returns to Greenville for his father’s funeral. This young man has gone to Columbia University on a scholarship, but has met bigotry there too (though often disguised). Unable to acquire the American dream, he has become a leftist agitator. He soon gets Willie stirred-up. He takes Willie to a rally of radicals he says he has formed out in the country one night.
They take a taxi (driven by a white driver). The black friend has earlier been refused a ride in a white man’s taxi and even more enraged at whites than before. On the way, he murders the taxi driver. Willie is stunned, but refuses to turn-in his friend. Soon a series of events lead people to believe it is Willie who murdered the taxi driver.