Marguerite’s love for sweets has finally taken its toll—she has two horrible cavities and the pain is excruciating. It becomes clear that she needs to see a dentist. She walks with Momma to the white part of town, and works hard to maintain a dignified appearance and not cry once they cross out of the black area. Momma walks Marguerite to the back of a dentist’s office and knocks on the back door, asking to see Dr. Lincoln.
Marguerite endures physical pain of cavities and the deeper emotional pain of racism: because she is a black person in a white part of town, she must enter through the back door, yet another example of humiliating and unfair racist oppression that Marguerite encounters in her everyday life.
Dr. Lincoln emerges. Momma explains that Marguerite has two rotten teeth and needs them pulled by a dentist. Dr. Lincoln, choosing his words carefully and calling Momma “Annie,” says he has a policy and “won’t treat colored people.” Momma politely asks him to reconsider. She reminds him that she loaned him money before, and did so without hesitation. He snaps back that he paid back that money, and he will stick to his policy. Momma tries again, saying that Marguerite is only little, and in a great deal of pain. But this time Dr. Lincoln says belligerently: “Annie, my policy is I’d rather stick my hand in a dog’s mouth than in a nigger’s.” He turns his back and goes inside without ever once looking at Marguerite.
This scene, one of the most poignant and heartbreaking in the book, shows just how cruel and inhumane the racists in Stamps could be. Dr. Lincoln thinks Momma is obliged to do him favors, but doesn’t consider returning her favors. He won’t even look at Marguerite—this child and her toothache are so beneath him that he will not even glance in Marguerite’s direction. His hateful proclamation that he would rather treat a dog than a black child is literally dehumanizing.
Momma and Marguerite catch a Greyhound to Texarkana where they can see a dentist for blacks. Momma is especially nice to Marguerite, and rubs her back and allows her to have ice cream, which is unusual. Marguerite thinks her Momma has been strong and impressive, and is full of love for her.
Marguerite admires her grandmother’s resilience and loves her all the more for it.