Cassie and her brothers are helping the family pick cotton on the farm when she spots Papa returning home unexpectedly. The family is surprised but happy. It doesn’t seem like anybody was expecting Papa, though Mama mentions that she sent Papa a letter recently. Papa has brought a giant man back with him—Mr. Morrison, who was fired from his last job for getting in a fight with white men (who were not fired, even though they started the fight). Mama tells him that they’re glad to have him. Papa, it turns out, can only stay for a day before he has to return to the railroad. Cassie wonders why Papa brought Mr. Morrison to live with them, deliberating with her brothers. She thinks that it might have something to do with the burnings T.J. mentioned on the first day of school.
Although the white men started the fight with Mr. Morrison, Mr. Morrison was the only one who was fired, which is just one more example of racial injustice in this book. Additionally, Papa has brought Mr. Morrison to the Logan farm because he seems to think that Mr. Morrison can offer some protection to his family, and he is always looking for ways to protect his family, even when he’s working on the railroad.
The next day at church, the children hear that one of the burn victims, John Henry Berry, has died from his injuries. Apparently he and his brother Beacon had been getting gas in the nearby town of Strawberry, when a couple of white men accused them of flirting with a white woman. The men chased down the two brothers, who stopped by their uncle’s house because they were running out of gas. The white men dragged all three—John, Beacon, and their uncle—out and lit them on fire. When Henrietta Toggins, a black witness, tried to tell the sheriff what happened, he called her a liar, even though the white men have been bragging about what they did and saying that they’ll do it to any “other uppity nigger” who gets out of line.
It’s clear that the burning incident was motivated by racism. The fact that even the sheriff won’t listen to Henrietta’s version of events shows how deeply embedded these racist sentiments are. It seems likely that the entire community knows that the Wallaces are responsible for the burning, since they’re bragging about it, but no one is willing to suggest that three white men should be punished for hurting three black men.
Papa makes a comment that sounds random to the children: “In this family, we don’t shop at the Wallace store.” He later tells his kids that he doesn’t like the Wallaces, and their store is trouble. Papa says that if he finds out any of them have gone into the store, he’ll give them a mean whipping. The kids readily agree not to go to the store.