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To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

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What do Jem And Scout learn about Atticus's place in the black community from visiting Calpurnia's church in chapter 12 of To Kill a Mockingbird?

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In chapter 12, Calpurnia takes Jem and Scout to her church. When Calpurnia and the children arrive at the church, the black men in attendance "step... back and [take] off their hats," and the black women "cross... their arms at their waists." Both gestures, those of the men and women respectively, are described as "weekday gestures of respectful attention." The men and women then part and create for Calpurnia and the children "a small pathway to the church door."

A woman named Lula approaches Calpurnia and asks her why she is "bringin' white chillun to nigger church." Lula tells Calpurnia that she "ain't got no business bringin' white chillun" to their church. Scout then senses that they are "being advanced upon." This confrontation suggests that the aforementioned gestures of respect were, at least for some, gestures of begrudging respect, in deference to the fact that the children are white and motivated partly by the fear of what white people can do to black people who are deemed disrespectful. The implication is that there are some black people at the church, like Lula, who think that Atticus's children, and so by implication Atticus himself, have no place in the black community.

However, after Lula's interjections, another member of the congregation, Zeebo, steps forward and says to Jem, "we're mighty glad to have you all here," and a little later, Reverend Sykes says, to all of the congregation, "we are particularly glad to have company with us this morning... Mister and Miss Finch. You all know their father." These words of reassurance, from Zeebo and Reverend Sykes, suggest that many among the congregation are glad to see Atticus's children in the church. By implication, many among the congregation do think that Atticus has a place in the black community. Indeed, when Reverend Sykes says, "You all know their father," we can infer that they all know Atticus because of his reputation as an honest, moral member of the community who does not discriminate against people because of the color of their skin.

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