James McPherson's story "A Loaf of Bread" tells of a change that occurs within a white businessman who owns three small groceries in different urban neighborhoods. The climactic moment takes place when, prompted by several people's words and deeds, he gives away groceries at no charge, showing a wild, erratic enthusiasm.
The giveaway starts calmly, with the very first customer of the day, to whom he gives a loaf of whole wheat bread: "'Free,' he heard himself saying strongly."
This unusual behavior grows out of the increasing tension around Green's overcharging African American customers. At his store in a predominantly African American neighborhood, he charges higher prices than at the other two locations. Despite his customers' complaints, he justifies these practices as sound business because he believes that the cost of doing business is higher in a poor, dangerous area. Green refuses to admit that he is engaged in racial discrimination.
Significantly, the first customer that day is Betty Reed. Her husband, Nelson Reed, has organized a protest against Green, which includes picketing. Green has been worried about possible unrest on this particular day because another protest has been scheduled. Ruth, his wife, had encouraged him to give away the groceries, hoping to avert trouble.
What surprises both Green and the customers is how enthusiastic he becomes once he gets started. He soon starts to feel "lighthearted and wild, like a man drugged."
By the time the picketers arrive, this wildness has taken hold someplace deep inside. When the crowd enters the store, he seems mad.
"Free!" the grocer screamed. He threw up his arms in a gesture that embraced, or dismissed, the entire store. "All free!" he shouted. He was grinning with the grace of a madman.