The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

by Ernest J. Gaines

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Book 2, Chapters 1-3 Summary

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The era of Reconstruction begins with Book Two. Jane is still at Mr. Bone’s plantation, and life appears to be going well for her and Ned. Jane works all day while Ned goes to school. She and Ned live in a small cabin with little furniture, but they eat every day and seem happy. Ned’s teacher is a black man whom everyone likes—children and adults. The teacher offers classes for adults at night, but Jane says she is too tired at the end of the day to attend. She is proud of Ned’s progress, though, as he learns to read. Ned demonstrates his skills one night, and Jane says it makes her feel as if he were her own child.

Many politicians come to Mr. Bone’s house for meetings. Mr. Bone prefers the Republican Party, which he tells his workers is against slavery. When Jane goes to a political rally in town, she listens to all the arguments the politicians make. When the discussions become so heated that fistfights break out, she hides with Ned under the grandstand.

Not too long after this rally, Mr. Bone calls all his workers to his house to make an announcement. He has lost the title to his plantation and is being forced to leave. The Secesh, or the returning Southern Rebel soldiers, will be taking over.

The new owner is Colonel Eugene I. Dye; he is not as friendly as Mr. Bone had been. He is not in favor of Negro politicians or reading and math classes for the workers, and he announces he will not have any money to pay them until the following year. Despite the new conditions, Jane decides she does not want to leave even though half of the plantation’s population decides to go. She laments that although she is technically free, Colonel Dye acts as if slavery were still in practice.

Jane then focuses her narrative on the exodus of black people from the South that occurs after the Civil War. People start leaving in droves. Whole families pack what they own on their backs, and many of them head for Washington, D.C. Leaving the South, Jane says, is nothing new for slaves. People have always been trying to get away. They have walked through the swamps, hoping the white people would not find them, but many people have been killed in the swamps. White slave owners used dogs to hunt them down. Often, rather than bring the slaves back, men would shoot them where they found them. Now, Jane says, people are leaving again. Slavery might be over, but many of the former slaves still cannot build good lives in the South.

When Ned is around eighteen years old, he joins a group from the North that is interested in how the former slaves in the South are doing. He goes around his community and asks people how much money they are making and how the masters are treating them. There are secret groups of White, Southern men who do not like black people and continually harass them. Also, the owners of the plantations are becoming stricter with their workers who want to leave for the North. They apply threats to make them stay and often use the secret groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), to scare black people into doing what they want them to do.

One day, Colonel Dye warns Jane that if Ned does not stop gathering information for the committee he is working with, there will be trouble. Later, while Ned is not at home, a group of men dressed in white sheets appear at Jane’s cabin. They beat her because she will not tell them where Ned is. When Ned comes home, though it pains him, he decides he must leave. He cannot in good conscience give up his work, but he worries that the KKK men will return and hurt Jane again if he stays on the plantation. So Ned and Jane part. Jane insists on staying on the plantation, while Ned leaves for New Orleans on his way to Kansas.

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