Atticus is elevated to almost saintly status in the eyes of Maycomb's African American community following his unsuccessful but determined defense of Tom Robinson. Atticus manages to portray Tom in a humane manner, always reminding the spectators in the courtroom that his client is a humble family man and not just a faceless Negro--a "typical... nigger." Reverend Sykes and the rest of the black spectators know that Atticus could have refused to take on the controversial rape case, a decision that put both his reputation and the safety of his family in needless jeopardy. They also knew that a public defender would have merely gone through the motions of defending Tom, treating him in a manner not unlike the prosecutor Horace Gilmer, who repeatedly referred to Tom as "boy." Even in defeat the African Americans in the courtroom balcony recognized that Atticus had used every trick in his legal arsenal to convince the all-white jury to overlook Tom's skin color when making their decision. The entire balcony stood in unison as Atticus left the courtroom--a spontaneous reaction meant to honor the man who had done his best to free their friend. The next morning, Atticus was awakened to more gifts from the desperately poor Negro community: They had cooked and delivered chicken and rolls and even "pickled pig's knuckles"--
... enough food to bury the family: hunks of salt pork, tomatoes, beans, even scuppernongs. (Chapter 22)
The Negro community knew it would not have been socially appropriate to visit Atticus en masse ("a respectable Negro would never go up into somebody's yard of his own volition"), so they delivered their culinary tributes one-by-one during the early morning hours--yet another sign that of the respect they had developed for Atticus Finch.