Mama asks Stacey to bring her his coat so that she can take up the sleeves for him, but it turns out that Stacey gave the coat to T.J. to get him to stop making fun of him. Mama is furious and tells Stacey to get the coat back, but Uncle Hammer stops her. He says that if Stacey isn’t smart enough to keep a good coat, then he doesn’t deserve the coat. Then he goes on to tell Stacey that there will always be people in life who will try to drag Stacey down, and he has to learn not to let them. Meanwhile, T.J. has been bragging about his new coat all the time, and Cassie is sick of it. She decides to take revenge on T.J. and on Lillian Jean, who’s been very smug every time Cassie has seen her lately, but she hasn’t decided how to do it.
Mama is furious not only because the coat is an extremely fine coat, but also because it was a family gift. The Logans are a very close family, so they should treat each other gifts accordingly. However, Uncle Hammer doesn’t allow Stacey to ask T.J. for the coat back because he believes there’s a lesson to be learned there—it’s his own form of justice. If Stacey gives away his coat, then he doesn’t deserve the coat. Meanwhile, Cassie plans her own revenge against Lillian Jean and T.J., since she knows that no justice will be done unless she takes action herself.
On the day before Christmas, Cassie wakes up to find that Papa has returned for Christmas. In the evening, all the adults tell stories of their past. Some of these are funny, like the story about Papa and Uncle Hammer stealing watermelons from a neighbor, but Mr. Morrison tells a tragic one. He talks about the night his family was killed by night men because a white woman had accused one of their neighbors of molesting her. The night men came and burned down the house, and Mr. Morrison’s mother saved Mr. Morrison by tossing him out of the house before he could be burned. Mr. Morrison’s parents were “breeded stock”—slaves who were bred like animals to be strong. Although Mr. Morrison’s parents fought the night men as hard as they could, they were still killed.
Storytelling is an important tradition to the Logans because it’s how they pass on their family and community history, and their stories are different from the ones told in books at school or anywhere else in print. It’s how Mr. Morrison, for example, remembers his family and how they were brutally murdered in a racist act. Mr. Morrison’s explanation of breeded stock also demonstrates how white people treated black slaves as if they were cattle rather than humans.
Cassie has trouble sleeping after hearing this story, and she wakes up in the middle of the night. Big Ma isn’t in bed next to her, though, so she gets up and walks into the other room where the adults are talking. Big Ma is saying that she doesn’t want to mess with the white people here, since it could cause trouble, but Mama is indignant. Mama wants to take action against the Wallaces by organizing a boycott, but Papa and Big Ma agree that there’s no way the Logans can back their credit with their land—it would surely result in the Logans losing the land. Uncle Hammer wants to burn the Wallaces out, but Mama dismisses him. Papa then notices Cassie standing in the shadows and takes her back to bed. He tells her that the Logans are never going to lose their land.
The Logan adults are trying to find a way to counter the injustices in their community in their own way. However, the only solution they can think of at the moment involves the possibility of losing their land, which Papa and Big Ma agree is not something they can or will ever allow. The land represents their family blood and independence.
On Christmas morning, the Logan children receive their presents. They each receive a new book, two of which were written by a black man, Alexander Dumas. The children also receive new clothes from Uncle Hammer, licorice, oranges, and bananas. They treasure the books above all else, however, and Little Man repeatedly washes his hands while flipping through his book to be sure he doesn’t get it dirty.
The fact that the children treasure their new books above all else shows how much they value words. They know that language is an important tool, and it’s likely why Papa chose a book written by a black man—he wants to show his children that there are powerful black role models as well.
The Averys join the Logans for Christmas dinner, and toward the end of the evening, Jeremy Simms knocks on the door. He’s brought a bag of nuts for the family and a handmade wooden flute for Stacey. Stacey accepts it hesitantly. Papa tells Jeremy that he better go home before his dad starts looking for him, and Jeremy agrees and starts to leave. Cassie wishes him a merry Christmas before he goes, and Jeremy seems pleased. Afterwards, T.J. tells Stacey that he should get rid of the flute, but Stacey ignores him, remembering the incident with the coat. Later on, Papa tells Stacey that it’s dangerous to be friends with a white boy, even if he would make a better friend than T.J. Stacey understands his meaning and agrees, but later Cassie sees him place the flute inside his box of treasured things.
Although Stacey recognizes that Jeremy could be a better friend than T.J., he listens to Papa’s advice. Papa believes that even though Jeremy and Stacey get along now, racism is a much bigger issue, and it will eventually overshadow their friendship as boys. The situation here is unfair to both Stacey and Jeremy.
The next day, the Logan children receive a whipping for going to the Wallace store. Then the men go to Vicksburg on mysterious business—Mama won’t tell Cassie why—and when they return, Mr. Jamison comes over. He brings a fruitcake and lemon drops for the children, and then the children are sent outside. Cassie sneaks inside once and sees that they’re looking over some papers. She overhears Mr. Jamison say that once the papers are signed, the land will belong to Uncle Hammer and Papa instead of Big Ma, and anything that happens to the land now will have to be their joint decision. Afterwards, as Mr. Jamison’s about to leave, the children head inside.
As in many other scenes throughout this book, the Logans are doing the best they can to ensure that their land remains with the family. In this case, Big Ma makes sure that even if she passes away, the land will be under Logan family name. It will be even more difficult for anything to happen to it because it will be jointly owned by Uncle Hammer and Papa.
Mr. Jamison pauses before he goes, however, and mentions that he’s heard about some locals who want to shop in Vicksburg. It turns out that the men had gone into Vicksburg earlier in order to see if they could get credit to back thirty families who want to shop there. Mr. Jamison tells them that they will surely lose the land if they try to back the sharecropping families’ credit with it, and he offers to back the credit instead. He knows that he will be unpopular for it, but he and his wife want to contribute to the boycott in some way. Mr. Jamison also warns the Logans that what they’re doing is dangerous because they’re suggesting that the Wallaces should be punished for what they’ve done. Harlan Granger will also use every opportunity he can to get their land.
Mr. Jamison hints that he’s not the only white person in the community who finds the situation with the Wallaces unjust. He wants to help the Logans in whatever way he can, and he does so by preventing them from making a move that will lead to the Logans losing their land. Mr. Jamison is familiar with how important their land is to the Logans—after all, he’s the one who sold some of his land to the Logans when he could have gotten more money for it from Harlan Granger.
Papa knows that they can’t truly win against the white families, but he says that they must try, and that maybe his children will able to succeed where they can’t. Mr. Jamison says he hopes that will be the case and leaves. Several days later, the men return to Vicksburg and come back with a wagon loaded with goods for families who are participating in the boycott.
One of the reasons Papa refuses to give up the land and his dignity is that he knows he’s setting an example for his children. Even if he can’t win right now, he hopes that his children might succeed in the future, when (hopefully) society starts to shift to become less racist.
The next day, Mr. Granger arrives at the house. The children all eavesdrop on the conversation from Mama and Papa’s room. Mr. Granger urges them to stop the boycott, threatening that he can make them lose their land if they don’t stop disturbing the peace. Papa says that they haven’t lost their land yet, and they don’t plan to start now. Mr. Granger says there are plenty of ways to stop them, and he gets up to leave.
Mr. Granger tries to bully the Logans out of participating in the boycott, implying subtle threats to their land. The threats are worrisome because without their land, the Logans would be able to help others participate in the boycott anyway, since they wouldn’t be able to do their shopping in Vicksburg either.