Cudjo can’t take any action against the man who kills his son, both because the man is a deputy sheriff and because he has recently been involved in a railroad accident.
Although this incident seems unrelated, it’s actually connected to the death of young Cudjo in that it describes another unjust interaction with the law.
On the morning of the accident, Cudjo decides to plant beans in his garden. He asks Seely to come and help him, instructing her to drop the seeds while he covers them with dirt. After some time, she says that he doesn’t actually need her to help, he just wants her company. He acknowledges that she’s right.
They don’t have enough seeds at home, so Cudjo decides to take his horse into Mobile to buy more. He asks Seely for some money and she gives him three dollars, more than he needs. He asks why she’s given so much, and she tells him to spend what’s necessary and bring home the rest. She knows he’s not going to do anything bad with the money.
Cudjo and Seely’s relationship is based on deep trust, as her remark about the money shows. In this sense, it’s antithetical to the family’s relationship with the outside world, which is generally based in hostility and fear.
After completing the errand, Cudjo turns toward home. However, just as he’s crossing the railroad track a train appears and hits his buggy. Cudjo is thrown onto the ground. Some bystanders take him to the doctor, and a white woman helps him get home and visits him later. She’s outraged by the accident and says the railroad has no right to rush through the town without ringing a bell or sounding a whistle. She visits the railroad company, but officials dismiss her complaints.
The strange woman’s kindness is a welcome contrast to the racism Cudjo usually experiences outside the Africatown community. At the same time, her belief that the railroad company must and will answer for its actions contrasts with Cudjo’s experience that in America, people can and do harm him without consequence.
The woman suggests Cudjo hire a lawyer and sue the company. Cudjo visits a lawyer named Clarke in Mobile, telling him that if he sues the railroad on his behalf they can split the settlement. The lawyer mounts a lawsuit, arguing that Cudjo is crippled and unable to work, and that the railroad should pay him $5,000. Cudjo himself has to testify in court and display his scars.
Here, it seems that Cudjo will actually be able to get justice. Although a settlement from the railroad company is small compensation for the many wrongs he has suffered, it would signal that the protections of American law extend to him, too.
After testifying, Cudjo is exhausted, so he goes to the market, planning to buy some meat and go home to Seely. His son David, who has stayed in the courthouse, comes to find him and announces that the railroad has given him $650. He can go to the lawyer’s office the next day and collect the money.
Cudjo’s eagerness to get away from the proceedings shows his lack of faith in the legal system, and preference to insulate himself within his family. Instead, it’s his sons like David who are more concerned with achieving formal justice.
Cudjo sends David to collect the money, but Clarke tells him he doesn’t have it yet. For weeks Cudjo keeps asking the lawyer for his money, but he keeps stalling. That year an epidemic of yellow fever strikes Mobile, and the lawyer flees from the city with his family; however, he gets sick and dies on the way.
While the law seems to be on Cudjo’s side this time, he’s still vulnerable to exploitation by his unscrupulous lawyer. This outcome is very far from the strange woman’s conception of an orderly and fair system of justice.
Cudjo never finds out where his settlement money went. He’s also still astonished and grateful that he wasn’t killed in the train crash. Now that he can no longer do physical labor, the people of Africatown appoint him as the church sexton.
Cudjo’s response to the failure of his lawsuit is to root himself even deeper in the community. Africatown’s sense of solidarity and faithfulness to African norms helps its residents maintain strength in the face of consistent racism from the outside world.