What is a brief summary of "Berry" by Langston Hughes?

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liesljohnson eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the story opens, an employment office in Jersey City has sent a worker, Milberry Jones, to a large home near the beach that houses disabled children for the summer. It's run in part by Mrs. Osborn, the housekeeper. She's surprised to see that the new worker is black, and his race creates problems for her because the other servants might not like it. She has him wash dishes, and then, trying to figure out where he can sleep that night (because the other servants won't want him near them), she walks over to Dr. Renfield's house.

This Dr. Renfield is the one who owns the whole facility. But he's not at home at his cottage at the moment; his wife answers the door, and it's a bit awkward because Mrs. Osborn has a crush on Dr. Renfield.

He stops by Mrs. Osborn's office later and finds out from her what's going on. (She refers to Milberry as a "Negro," and Dr. Renfield refers to him as "the darkie.") They decide that Milberry will sleep alone in the attic and that, because he's black, he'll earn $8 a week instead of $10.

Milberry is described as uneducated but quick-witted, grateful for his new job, but a little annoyed that the employers are working him to death because he's "just" a black kid. He senses something "phoney" about the whole facility, though: all the adults complain and gossip a lot, and the disabled kids aren't treated very well.

The kids love Milberry, though, and he enjoys playing, singing, and talking with them. They offer him warmth and affection and call him "Berry."

One August day, Berry is helping a child in a wheelchair head down to the beach, when the child leans out and falls, and the wheelchair breaks. Even though the child isn't really hurt, and even though he clings to Berry for comfort, Dr. Renfield and Mrs. Osborn blame Berry for the accident and make it a huge deal. Not only do they fire Berry, they also deduct his last week of pay to make up for the broken wheelchair. He has to go back to Jersey City.