Chapter 115 Summary
The New Hope Colored Methodist Episcopal Church becomes more than just a place for worship and services: it becomes a school, too. The teacher, Sister Carrie, does her best with the materials contributed by the community of believers and teaches all grades in one room. Her students range in age from twelve (Tom’s oldest, Maria Jane Murray) down to six (Tom’s youngest, Elizabeth Murray). Elizabeth becomes the most capable student in the Murray family and begins to teach her own father to read and write. Elizabeth is also so good with numbers that she becomes the bookkeeper for her father’s blacksmithing business, now one of the most prosperous businesses in the town of Henning.
Soon, Elizabeth falls in love with John Toland, an apt sharecropper with not only good looks but also intelligence. The two court in secret and, after two months, Tom orders Elizabeth to bring the young man home to meet the family. The meeting does not go well. Tom is adamant not to allow the marriage because “he too high-yaller. He could nigh ‘bout pass fo’ white—jes’ not quite. He ain’t fish or fowl. . . . He never gon’ b’long nowhere. . . . I don’t want dat kinda life fo’ you, ‘Lizabeth.”
Elizabeth is beside herself with despair, even telling her father that while he talks about other people not accepting black folks, he is the one doing the rejecting. Matilda is beside herself as well, knowing Tom has some white blood in him. Tom Lea was his grandfather. After making that statement, Matilda clutches her chest and falls into a stupor, only to die two days later.
Upon Matilda’s death, Chicken George’s happiness and spirit die as well. No one ever sees him smile or laugh again. Chicken George refuses to live in the cabin that once was his and Matilda’s, so he spends his nights traveling from child to grandchild to get rest.
One day, in his mid-eighties, Chicken George sits by the fire in his granddaughter’s cabin. As Mary Jane leaves to bring her husband his lunch, Chicken George falls into the fire and is burned over half of his body. He dies that very night. Almost everyone in Henning comes to his funeral. As cantankerous as George was in his final years, everyone is sad that the legendary Chicken George is gone.