Mama, Big Ma, and the children are picking cotton. They have to climb up on poles to reach the highest parts of the cotton stalks. While high up on a pole, Cassie looks over the cotton and recognizes her Papa approaching. He has just come home for the weekend. He has brought home Mr. L. T. Morrison to be a hired hand on the farm. L. T. was fired from the railroad for getting in a fight with some white men who were abusing him. The children suspect that L. T.'s presence has something to do with the burnings that have been going on.
At church the next day, it is announced that John Henry Berry died of his burns. After church, people gather to talk. They are frustrated and sad. Afterwards, Papa warns the children not to ever go to the Wallace store, which has dances and sells cigarettes and liquor.
In late October, the rainy season starts. The children are furious that the white children's school bus continues to splash them with mud. Fastidious Little Man is especially frustrated. Stacey comes up with a plan. At recess, they go out to the road with shovels, and dig out a hole that is soon filled with rain. That afternoon, the bus is stuck in the washout that results. Repairs will take weeks. The children are deliciously happy.
That evening, trouble comes. T. J.'s father stops by the Logan home to warn them that the White men are "riding" again. Harlan Granger's maid overheard him talking about it with the bus driver. The children are terrified that they have caused trouble. That night, Cassie spies a caravan of cars coming up to the house. A man gets out, shakes his head, and motions for the caravan to go the other way. She also sees L. T., hiding in the shadows with a shotgun.
The main plot line begins to take shape in Chapter Two. The burning of John Henry Berry by white men is a kind of lynching, in which white men take the life of a black man and are not punished for it. The police look the other way. As usual, the killers find some excuse; in this case it is rumored that John Henry Berry was "flirting" with a white woman--probably all he did was smile in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Naturally, this sort of unpunished violence troubles the black community. As the book progresses, specific events involving the Logans will occur. Obviously, Mama and Papa suspect something of this nature. L. T. needs work, but he also seems to have come in order to protect the family while Papa is away. Also, Papa warns the children not to go to the Wallace store, because he knows that if they are around drinking and dancing, they may end up as the target of a lynching someday.
The episode in which the children sabotage the bus is a kind of comic relief--until it almost results in a lynching, that is. It is a break from the main progress of the plot, and it illustrates the character of the children. Little Man is easily angered, especially when it comes to neatness. Stacey is strong and clever, and ready to bend the rules in order to satisfy his siblings. The way all of the children work together to have their little revenge shows how close they are to one another.