Chapter 2 Summary

The Logan family is picking cotton when Cassie, who has climbed a pole to reach the cotton puffs on the plants, sees her father approaching with another man. She and the other children run out to meet them. After the kids greet their father, he introduces them to his companion, Mr. Morrison, who is frighteningly large and covered with scars.

Inside the house, Papa announces that he can only stay until the following evening. Cassie argues, but Papa says he will lose his job if he is not back at work by Monday morning. He goes on to announce that Mr. Morrison will stay and work on the Logan farm in exchange for food, board, and a little cash. The children are shocked, but Mama merely welcomes Mr. Morrison to her home.

Mr. Morrison confesses to Mama that he was fired from the railroad for beating two men. Mama asks whose fault the fight was, and Mr. Morrison says it was theirs but that the other men did not get fired because they were white. Mama thanks him for his honesty and does not retract her welcome. She says she will be glad to have Mr. Morrison nearby, “especially now.”

Mama does not explain what she means by “especially now,” but Cassie thinks Papa wants Mr. Morrison to protect the family because of the burnings the children heard about in the morning. Little Man says the burnings have nothing to do with it, and Stacey says Cassie should stop worrying. Only Christopher John refuses to argue. He only says he wants their papa to stay home forever.

The next morning at church, the Logans hear that John Henry Berry, one of the burning victims, has died. The Logan children’s grandmother, Big Ma, says John Henry was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Her friend Mrs. Lanier disagrees. Mrs. Lanier tells that John Henry was accused of flirting with a white woman. For this crime, a group of white men chased him, rammed his car, and lit him on fire along with two male relatives who tried to defend him.

As Cassie and her brothers listen, several adults comment that violence by white people against black people is growing worse. Everyone seems to agree that nothing can be done about the problem; the police refuse to help black victims and even go as far as calling them liars when they complain about horrible events like the Berry burnings. Papa Logan brings this frightening conversation to an end when he makes a strange comment: “In this family, we don’t shop at the Wallace store.” Although Cassie does not understand why, the adults grow uncomfortable and stop talking after that comment.

After church, Papa calls his children together and tells them never to go to the Wallace store. He says that people drink there and that he dislikes Mr. Wallace. The kids know Papa will whip them if they disobey. They all agree.