“The people she chose, young and old, from the rich part of town or the more modest streets, did not individually persecute Cora. As a community, they were shackles. If she kept at it, chipping away at weak links wherever she found them, it might add up to something.”

In the “South Carolina” chapter, when Cora is working in the Museum of Natural Wonders, she picks one spectator each hour to give the evil eye, staring hard into their eyes until they become uncomfortable and leave, reclaiming some control of the dynamic of the observer and the observed. Using a metaphor of a chain made of weaker and stronger links, Whitehead uses this scene to reflect on the power of the spectators and by extension the white community as a whole to oppress and control Black people. Like a chain, the community is powerful because it is united. Cora recognizes that just as a single chain link cannot shackle anyone, the individual people staring at her do not oppress her individually. However, as a group, they do. Cora chooses therefore to work on breaking the people she sees as weakest, just as a strong chain can be broken by focusing on its weakest links. 

“In her Georgia misery she had pictured freedom, and it had not looked like this. Freedom was a community laboring for something lovely and rare.”

This passage is in the “Indiana” chapter, as Cora reflects on the Shucking Bee and the community at Valentine in general. Like Randall, Valentine is a farm, and the Black people there do agricultural labor. When Royal joins in singing a work song that Connelly used on Randall to return the hands to work after a beating, Cora is disoriented at the idea that at Valentine, things that were reminders of suffering at Randall can instead bring joy. At Valentine, the song brings the community together voluntarily, rather than under the threat of force as at Randall. The work at Valentine unites the people, making them stronger together. When Cora had pictured freedom for herself while still on the plantation, she had imagined an individual freedom. Here, she finds a community that is free together, providing opportunity for each other that is made possible by the strength of working together.

“The previous night in Tennessee, Ridgeway had called Cora and her mother a flaw in the American scheme. If two women were a flaw, what was a community?”

This passage occurs in the “Indiana” chapter, as Cora rides the Underground Railroad out of Tennessee and considers Royal’s description of Valentine farm. When Ridgeway refers to Cora and Mabel as flaws in the American imperative, he means they threaten what he considers the natural order of manifest destiny. Ridgeway believes it is morally correct for white people to hold Black people in bondage simply because they can. The example of escapees like Cora and Mabel points to a hole in that logic. In addition, their example  provides hope to other enslaved people, who may in turn decide to run. For that reason, Ridgeway believes it is dangerous to let Black people become too smart or inspired. Hearing about the free and intellectually engaged community at Valentine, Cora sees the possibility that a whole community of people like her and Mabel is more than just a flaw in the American scheme: it is powerful enough to upend the whole system, threatening the white supremacy at its base. The power of the community at Valentine lies not only in how it protects its own members, but in how it could become an example that inspires Black people all over the country to rise up and overthrow the system of slavery altogether.