Making a decision that he hoped he would never have to make, Atticus accepts the responsibility of defending Tom Robinson, a Negro man who has been accused of raping a white woman. Atticus did not seek out the case, but he was asked by Judge John Taylor to defend Tom, knowing he would get better representation from Atticus than from the court-appointed public defender.
"I'd hoped to go through life without a case of this kind, but John Taylor pointed at me and said, 'You're It.' "
Atticus knows that defending Tom, a member of Calpurnia's church, will bring him enemies, and he worries that it will affect Jem and Scout, who are sure to hear the gossip around town. Sure enough, Scout is forced to defend her father when her schoolmates--and her own cousin, Francis--call him a "nigger-lover."