The final scene of Chapter 21, including Reverend Sykes's comment to Scout, marks a very symbolic and powerful moment in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.
One tradition in a court of law is for the people of the court to stand as the judge enters or leaves the room in order to show respect for the judge as the one and only arbiter of the law in the room. But, people of the court never stand up as attorneys enter or leave the room since attorneys do not have the same legal authority as judges.
By the end of Chapter 21, Judge Taylor has read the jury's tragic unanimous guilty verdict, and Atticus has proceeded to exit the courtroom by taking the south exit, an exit choice that, as Scout notes, took him on a "lonely walk down the aisle" admist all of the courtroom spectators. Since Scout kept her eyes glued on her lonely father, she had failed to notice that all of the people in the so-called colored balcony had risen to their feet, until Reverend Sykes called it to her attention, saying, "Miss Jean Louise? ... Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father's passin'." Scout is naturally very surprised by the behavior since this is not the first time she has been in the courtroom during her father's career and is well aware that no tradition exists for standing as attorneys leave the room. The surprised tone in Scout's narrative shows that she is well aware of the symbolic meaning of the Negroes "getting to their feet" and its importance.
Not only does the action of the Negroes rising show their respect for Atticus, it shows they now see Atticus as the true symbolic arbiter of the law, not Judge Taylor. Through his cross-examinations, Atticus had proven to the court, including Judge Taylor, that a doctor's evidence did not exist to prove the crime Tom Robinson was being indicted with actually took place did not exist; Atticus further proved it was impossible for Robinson to cause the injuries he had been indicted with due to being crippled in his left arm and hand. Yet, due to racial prejudices, the jury still returned with a guilty verdict. Judge Taylor had legal authority to dismiss the case once it had become known that a doctor's evidence did not exist and once it became known Robinson was physically incapable of committing the crime. If the case had been dismissed, the jury's verdict would have been dismissed as well. As Atticus argued in his closing remarks, "To begin with, this case should never have come to trial" (Ch. 20). Yet, Judge Taylor did not make this very legal decision and instead made the very illegal decision of allowing the jury to make its judgement regardless of all lack of evidence, a clear violation of the legal principle known as corpus delicti, which translates from the Latin to mean "the body of evidence" (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, ed. 2). The Negroes in the court are well aware of Judge Taylor's unlawful action and, therefore, also aware that Atticus is the only member of the court who strove to uphold the law that day. As a result, they stand as Atticus exits the building to pay him respect as the only one upholding the law. In standing, they symbolically recognize Atticus as the arbiter of the law since he upheld the law, not Judge Taylor, who failed to uphold the law.
In To Kill a Mockingbird, the trial of Tom Robinson has come to a close. It has been a hard trial and some ugly things have been said in the courtroom. Jem, Dill and Scout have to sit in the balcony with the black community because the courtroom has filled up so fast. All of Maycomb has come out for the trial. Leading up to the trial, Scout has had to hear people saying ugly things about her father for taking the case of a black man. Most of the people were mad that Atticus would actually defend a black man, but Atticus did the right thing.
During the whole trial the children sit with Rev. Sykes, and he treats the kids with respect. The respect that the black community feels for Atticus extends to his children. The black community is very thankful for Atticus and what he is doing.
When Atticus loses the case, the people in the balcony all stand up as he is walking by. Rev. Sykes tells Scout to stand up as well because her father is passing by; he is showing not only Atticus, but also Scout the respect they all have for her father, and the work he has done on their behalf.
The black citizens of Maycomb who have attended the trial of their friend, Tom Robinson, recognize that even in defeat, Atticus Finch has done his best. Atticus has made it clear to everyone but the jury that Tom's crippled arm prevented him from committing the crime of which he is charged. The jury has taken hours to come to a decision and, according to Miss Maudie, Atticus is
"... the only man in these parts who can keep a jury out so long in a case like that... it's just a baby-step, but it's a step."
Tom's friends in the balcony are obviously grateful for Atticus's efforts, and when he exits the courtroom, they stand in unison to honor him. When the distracted Scout feels Reverend Sykes "punching me," it was to encourage her to stand as well, since "Your father's passin'."