Ernestine is wearing her graduation dress and holding her diploma. She has just graduated. Back at the apartment, Godfrey, Gerte, and Ermina throw a celebratory party for her. As they celebrate, though, Godfrey reveals that he has gotten Ernestine a job at the bakery. When Ernestine says she’s uninterested in working at the bakery, Gerte tells her that it’s a good, steady job, and Godfrey says that he already accepted the position on her behalf.
Godfrey thinks he’s doing something wonderful for his daughter by getting her a job, but he ultimately oversteps by accepting the position on Ernestine’s behalf. This doesn’t align with the independent lifestyle Ernestine wants to lead. Plus, working in a bakery isn’t what she imagines herself doing, as she seems to have more elaborate plans for her future. Sure enough, then, she will need to make a choice between following her own path and making her father happy.
Godfrey doesn’t understand why Ernestine doesn’t want the job at the bakery. When she tells him that she’s going to Harlem, he thinks she’s just chasing Lily. In reality, though, Ernestine wants to go for herself. She turns to the audience and narrates her future—a future in which she goes to Harlem and tries to find Lily and the Communist Party’s headquarters. Nobody knows what she’s talking about, but they remember Lily, so they send her to a bar, where she tells the bartender about her eagerness to devote herself to the communist cause. Listening to her speak, he says he thinks he knows the place she’s looking for. He gives her an address, and when she goes there, she sees that it’s not the Party headquarters—it’s City College.
When Ernestine got in trouble for writing a school essay that made her teacher think she was a communist, Lily defended her by suggesting that she was simply thinking critically about the world. Interestingly enough, now that she actually wants to become involved in the Communist Party, she ends up making her way to college, where she will certainly continue to think critically about the world around her. She doesn’t end up joining the Communist Party, then, but instead pursues the ideas that drive the Communist Party’s belief in justice and equality—a pursuit that Lily, wherever she is, would certainly approve of.
Years later, Ernestine narrates, she will return to Brooklyn to visit Godfrey, Gerte, and Ermina. Ermina will give birth to her first child before Ernestine has graduated college. Ermina will return to the South to visit their grandmother, and she’ll also be the one to identify Lily’s dead body, which will be “poked full of holes.” Ernestine will read important works of theory and literature, and through those pages she’ll feel connected to Lily again. Even later, Ernestine will become a Freedom Rider during the bus boycotts of the civil rights movement. She’ll also get married and have two sons—one will go to college and the other will die from a drug overdose. For now, though, she simply plans to walk through Harlem as she begins her new life.
The implication here is that Lily dies from complications related to intravenous drug use. Her story is thus a tragic one, as her independent, free-thinking attitude ultimately left her alone in life. But the play doesn’t suggest that such a mindset is what leads to tragedy. To the contrary, the play ends on a somewhat hopeful note, implying that Ernestine has been empowered to lead a life that was perhaps inaccessible to her aunt, who belonged to a generation and time period that was ruthless in its discrimination and alienation of free-thinking Black women. Ernestine, on the other hand, has the chance to advocate for herself and for other Black people by participating in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Although Lily’s life ended sadly, then, her legacy lives on in Ernestine’s strength and agency as a Black woman fighting for justice and equality.