Chapter 5 Summary

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Arriving in the warmly lit chapel, the narrator took a seat. Dr. Bledsdoe sat at the front of the room with several guest speakers, and the narrator was startled to watch Dr. Bledsdoe touch one of the white speakers on the arm. He had touched a white man that day, too, after all, and it had ended in disaster.

When one of the guest speakers took the stage, the narrator was startled to realize he had somehow overlooked the man until he started speaking to the room. He had been so fixated on Dr. Bledsdoe and the white guests, he realized, that he had failed to notice the Black man entirely. Asking the student next to him, the narrator learned that he was Reverend Homer E. Barbee, visiting from Chicago.

The man’s speech was gripping, and the narrator was entirely taken in by his words as he spoke about Black history, oppression, and the Founder. Barbee also venerated Dr. Bledsdoe, telling the student body they should aspire to one day match his accomplishments and stature. The narrator, moved by Reverend Barbee’s passion, began to grieve his eventual departure from the campus. He felt more connected to the place than ever and might soon be forced to leave it.

When Reverend Barbee tripped over Dr. Bledsdoe and was helped back up by several of the other guests, the narrator was surprised to realize for the first time that the reverend was blind. Reverend Barbee sat down, concluding his sermon, and the congregation began to sing in hopeful exaltation before another speaker took over. This speech, too, ended in song, and when the narrator heard “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” his emotion and anxiety escalated in tandem. Overwhelmed, he stepped outside to wait for services to end and walked toward Dr. Bledsdoe’s office.

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