The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman
Book 4: The Quarters
Jimmy Aaron soon leaves the plantation to attend school full time. Just as he leaves, the southern civil rights movement starts kicking into full swing. Robert Samson calls the entire community to his house and tells them that they live on his property for free, use his water, and electricity for free but if they or anyone in their family gets involved in protesting, he is going to kick them off, without exception. Sometime after, the son of Yoko, a local woman, is caught protesting in New Orleans. When Samson hears of it, he makes Yoko, her husband, and her son leave, even though they have lived there for fifty years. As they are leaving, the son makes a big sign protesting Samson's treatment, but even Miss Jane's requests cannot save them.
A few months after Yoko leaves, Jimmy Aaron returns and shows up in church. He stands up during the service and tells everyone that he has been in Alabama and Mississippi, that he has been arrested with Reverend Martin Luther King, and that he has come this day to gather them together to help continue the protest in Bayonne. Only old people attend the church service. Jimmy's ideas scare them because they do not want to be forced off the plantation where their ancestors are buried. Only Jane stands up for Jimmy and even fights with other church members over him. Jimmy tries to convince them in his cause, but when they remain unchanged, he walks out. Later in the day, Jimmy and a sloppy looking young black man approach Jane's house. Jane explains that she is willing to help Jimmy but that everyone is scared because they are old like she is. Jimmy becomes excited at her willingness to participate. He explains that they want to protest in Bayonne against the fact that no true restroom exists for black people, just one in a basement that is truly inaccessible. Also, they want to protest against the white-only drinking fountain. A black girl is going to use the water fountain on a Friday and get arrested. After her arrest, the blacks will use the weekend to solicit support. Then on Monday they will march on the Bayonne courthouse and demand her release.
After the girl is arrested, Jane speaks with Mary Hodges, who lives with her, and Lena, Jimmy's aunt. Lena fears that Jimmy will be killed, but they all agree to head to Bayonne with him on Monday morning. A man named Brady is supposed to drive Miss Jane, but he shows up the night before, crying, because he is scared. Jane finds instead a woman named Olivia who will take her. When Monday morning comes, Jane, Mary, and Lena gather outside. Suddenly Jane sees a whole crowd of people walking toward them. Jane feels so proud that she starts to cry. Just as the crowd is coming though, a car driven by Robert Samson appears. When Lena sees him, she looks grieved. Samson tells them that Jimmy was shot dead that morning at eight o'clock. Lena falls to the ground, wailing. Samson tells them to go home and forget it. One young man named Alex says that those people who want to go to Bayonne will still go. Others look confused, but Jane takes the lead. She urges everyone to go. She stares down Robert Samson as she walks off with Alex. With the crowd behind her, they head to the courthouse.
The final section of the book and of the "Quarters" chapter focuses upon Jimmy's rise to lead. Jimmy definitely has become a leader to the extent that he longs to mobilize the community for the cause of civil rights. The church once thought that Jimmy would become more of a religious messiah, however his conversion toward politics is equally as important.
The growth of the Civil Rights movement clearly threatens the social order that guarantees white supremacy. Robert Samson believes that the Civil Rights movement is so threatening that he disallows any of his tenants getting involved in it. To some extent, this rule is both harsh and ridiculous. All of the tenants on Samson are old and have lived there for almost fifty years. When Robert Samson throws Yoko and her family off, we feels sad for her but also we can see how futile Samson's efforts are. He is an old man now, as are all of them, but he still makes a final attempt to control, even though the turning of the racial tides is well underway in the south.
The people of the community react in fear when Jimmy wants to take action in Bayonne. Jimmy knows that Jane is a respected elder in the community, effectively the community mother, therefore he approaches her, and she agrees to help. Jane is very old now, older than one hundred years. She still is spunky however and frequently gets in rather comical fights with other church members when defending her desire to listen to baseball or defending Jimmy's ideas. Jane is the only older resident who does not show fear in being thrown off the Samson plantation. Her fearlessness is not really surprising given the fact that it long has surfaced in her many adventures.
Jimmy's attempts to mobilize the community should be considered in light of Ned Douglass's similar attempts approximately fifty years ago. During both periods, the communities feared social action. During Ned's era, no one ever helped him even though they all came together to idolize him at his death. Initially, the elders at the Samson Plantation feel equally fearful, but a great deal of them do mobilize, even though some like Brady remain too scared to partake. When Jane sees the amount of people who come, she feels so proud that she wants to cry. Her pride is a result of an understanding that these people have overcome their fear and are finally willing to take a stand, perhaps the last one of their elderly lives. It is the change in the community's involvement that marks the difference between Ned and Jimmy's time. Jimmy's community will continue on the march, led in part by Jane, whereas Ned's movement died with his death. Even though he has died, Jimmy has truly become a martyr because even with his death, he has saved people from their fear and given them the opportunity to finally prove themselves.
In the last few sentences of the novel, Jane proves her obstinacy and courage once more. It is she who gets the people to head to town despite the death of Jimmy. Robert Samson gives her a low stare as she does this, but she simply remarks that she stared back at "Robert" and then walked by him. Jane's use of the term "Robert" instead of the more socially appropriate "Mr. Samson" once again shows the way that Jane uses names to reflect her changing ideas on social hierarchies. Soon after the novel opened, Jane insisted that she was "Miss Jane Brown" instead of Ticey. Now as the novel closes, she calls Mr. Samson "Robert", a mode of address that signifies equality and not subservience. In the end, both Jane and Samson stand upon equal ground with one another. As she moves by him, it is clear that Samson's position no longer threatens her in any way.
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