The segregationists’ campaign against the black students intensifies. Worse, when Melba goes to Mrs. Huckaby to complain, she tries to convince Melba that nothing is wrong or that she is too sensitive. Melba sympathizes with the “enormous weight” Mrs. Huckaby must be under, but also knows that she should not waste her time reporting to anyone at Central about her problems.
On Saturday morning, Melba gets a call from Link. He says that he needs her help. He tells her to meet him “just inside North Little Rock.” Melba tells Mother Lois and Grandma India that there is “a big emergency” with Thelma, permitting her to drive to meet Link. It is a “dismal” part of town where black people live in appalling conditions. When they arrive at their destination, he prompts her to pull groceries from the trunk. He is providing them for his Nana Healey who worked for his family her whole life and was let go, without any compensation, after she got sick with what Link thinks is tuberculosis. She does not have any family of her own.
Nana Healey, like many poor, uneducated, black Southern women, does not have the power or the knowledge to challenge the conditions in which she lives or to fight for her rights against Link’s family. The system of servitude in which Nana Healey worked is not much different from that which existed during slavery: servants could not challenge their white employers and, though they were paid, they had to content themselves with whatever compensation they received.
Melba and Link enter Nana Healey’s “tiny, bare shack” which is “spotlessly clean.” Nana Healey is angry when Link introduces Melba as his “friend,” saying that they will get themselves “in a heap of trouble.” Melba asks why Link’s family did not “make some provision for her.” Link says that his father “turns [him] off” by calling him “weak” and a “you-know-what lover.” He also says that his father thinks “colored folks are used to doing without” and ought not be spoiled.
Link cares for Nana Healey as she cared for him when she raised him. She, like many other young, uneducated black women in the South, could only find work as a household servant. Such work was often thankless and made them vulnerable to many forms of exploitation, including Link’s father’s callous dismissal of Nana Healey.
Melba finds a black doctor who goes to see Nana Healey and reports that she does not have much longer to live. Melba decides to tell Grandma India about Nana Healey. At first, Grandma India is angry with Melba for having lied, but promises to visit Nana Healey during her weekly trips to North Little Rock. Soon, Link and Grandma India become friends and discuss Nana Healey’s care.
As with Melba’s secret decision to integrate Central High, Grandma India is concerned every time Melba makes an independent decision, particularly one that brings her in closer proximity to a young, white man. Grandma India has previously expressed her mistrust of Link.
The last days of school are stressful. Link warns about the segregationists doing something to someone’s family, but Melba worries about a boy in study hall who threatens to throw her out of a window and the girls who encircle her “at least once a day” and say every negative thing they can about her body. Meanwhile, Mother Lois grows tenser and, on a Monday evening, gathers the family in the living room to announce that her teaching contract will not be renewed unless Melba withdraws from Central.
The threats against Melba are gender-specific: the boys threaten to cause her physical harm, while the girls ostracize her and attack her self-esteem. When this does not succeed in getting Melba to withdraw, the adults use their institutional leverage to threaten Mother Lois with unemployment. The pressure on the family is now not only physical and psychic, but economic.