Chapter 5

The narrative of Chapter 5 focuses on the point of view of Dr. Benedict Mady Copeland, Portia's father. Portia comes to visit her father in the evening. As they talk, it is clear that Dr. Copeland is highly educated, as his precise, mannered speech is a far cry from the slangy vocabulary and syntax of the other black characters.

Portia begins cooking some collard greens that she has brought with her. As she is cooking, her father asks her is she is planning to have children. This comment appears to make Portia angry. Dr. Copeland reflects on all the children he has delivered during his career that have been named after him, and on that fact that each time he lectures, explains, and encourages the adults to use birth control: "It is not more children we need but more chances for the ones already on the earth." But all of Dr. Copeland's efforts have seemed to have no effect.

Then Portia tells her father how a rich man named B.F. Mason came to town a while ago. Claiming to be from Washington, D.C., he went door-to-door in the black neighborhood to sign people up for what he touted as a government pension program. By the time Mason was discovered as a fraud, all the money he took had been hidden or spent.

The story of this scam artist angers Dr. Copeland, who claims, "The Negro race of its own accord climbs up on the cross every Friday." He says if he could find just four black people with intelligence and courage, he could make a difference for the black race. Then Dr. Copeland and Portia get into a discussion about the way he raised her and her brothers; and Portia says one cannot make children come out the way one wants them to. She says that because he pushed them so hard as a father, he alienated her brother Willie and has never even really met her husband, Highboy. Portia's comments make Dr. Copeland cry.

Dr. Copeland recovers and then reflects on Portia's mother, Daisy, and her gentle nature. Though Dr. Copeland has never been a religious man, Daisy used to go to church every Sunday and often took the children with her. Dr. Copeland had huge aspirations for his children—he wanted them to be lawyers, doctors, professors, scientists. But none of them became any of those things. His elder two sons are named Hamilton and Karl Marx, and he is more or less estranged from them.

Then Portia discusses her work at the Kellys' house. Dr. Copeland encourages her to find another job, but she says she is happy there. She mentions John Singer, which seems to brighten her father's demeanor. Dr. Copeland remembers a rainy night a few days ago when he was standing on a street corner trying to light a cigarette. The matches kept fizzling out in the wet weather. Suddenly Singer appeared beside Dr. Copeland, holding up a light. In the glow from the flame they could see each other's faces, and Singer smiled at him. It was the first time in Dr. Copeland's life that a white man had shown him a gesture of courtesy.