Battle Royal, published in 1952, is the story of an African American high school - graduate and the way he deals with a racist community. The final words of his grandfather, who "had been the meekest of men" (378), has haunted him and his family ever since the death of the grandfather. His grandfather had experienced the abolishment of slavery and had worked hard all his life to provide for his family, living in peace with his white neighbors. Yet on his deathbed the grandfather stated: "after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight I want you to overcome 'em with yeses, undermine 'em with grins, agree 'em to death and destruction, let them swoller you till they vomit or burst wide open" (378). Ellison states that the boy is a lot like his grandfather. The boy graduates at the top of his class, and at the graduation ceremony he delivers a powerful speech about how humility is the essence of progress. After the speech he is invited to give the same speech at a gathering of the town's leading white citizens. .
Once he arrives at the gathering, he is not aware that they are not interested to hear his speech at all. In doing well he was "doing something that was really against the wishes of the white folks" (379). As part of the evening's entertainment, the boy is asked by the white people that invited him to take part in the "Battle Royal" together with some of his black classmates. After being dressed up in shorts and boxing gloves, he and the other black youth are taken back to the party by the freight-elevator. The other black boys are angry with the boy for taking the place of one of their friends, thereby getting his share of prize money. As they arrive back at the party, the boy is "shocked to see some of the most important men of the town quite tipsy" (380). Before the black boys are led into the boxing ring at the center of the room and blindfolded, a stripper dances for the crowd.