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Mr. Underwood is protecting Atticus when he holds the gun on the mob.
Although Mr. Underwood “despises Negroes” (Ch. 16), he cares about Atticus. He does not say that he was protecting Tom. He was protecting his friend.
Mr. Underwood had no use for any organization but The Maycomb Tribune, of which he was the sole owner, editor, and printer. ... He rarely gathered news; people brought it to him. (Ch. 15)
When the mob leaves, Atticus tells Tom that the men are no longer a threat. It is then revealed that Mr. Underwood has been covering them with a shotgun the whole time, ready to come to their rescue if they needed it.
From a different direction, another voice cut crisply through the night: "You're damn tootin' they won't. Had you covered all the time, Atticus." (Ch. 15)
Mr. Underwood’s feelings about Negroes aside, he has a strong sense of justice. He may be a drunk and mean, but he is also an important man in the town because he runs the paper. He is respected. Atticus is already beginning to change feelings. If the fact that he is loved and respected can help someone like Mr. Underwood change his ways, even a little, there is hope for the rest of the town.
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