At the Johnson house where her mother works as a domestic, Essie Mae and her siblings befriend the neighborhood children, who are white. Essie becomes aware of the discrepancies between what they and the white children have, and learns what segregation means. At nine years old, Essie must work to help feed the family, and Mama gets pregnant by Raymond.
Mama and the children move into a house Raymond builds for them, but are treated cruelly by his family because they are light Negroes and Mama is dark. The baby is born, delivered by a midwife. Essie wonders why Mama resents it when whites treat Essie as an equal, and why Negroes shun those who are darker-skinned among them. The family has a happy Christmas.
The family goes to Centreville Baptist with Raymond's family, but even in church are snubbed. Mama returns to her old church at Mt. Pleasant, and tricks Essie into attending a revival. Caught in the emotion of the moment, Essie steps forward to be baptized. Confused and angry at circumstance and the hypocrisy she sees all around, Essie is baptized, but emerges feeling more muddied than cleansed.