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Doctor Benedict Mady Copeland sits in his dark kitchen in the evening. He has been reading Spinoza and the words of this philosopher are still echoing in his head. He is often interrupted in the evenings by calls for his help as the only doctor in town who serves its African-American population. He hears the harmonica of Willie and knows his daughter, Portia, will soon knock on his door. She comes in relaxed and chatty. The contrast between the two of them is stark. While he is stiffly formal in speech and manner, Portia is familiar and easy. She takes off her shoes, begins to cook dinner, and chats in the dialect of Southern African Americans ignoring her fatherís implicit corrections of her grammar.
She tells her father about her life with Highboy and Willie. They each contribute the common fund of their household and feel satisfied by the cooperation. He asks her if she plans for children and she replies shortly that it is Godís place to decide that question. He thinks of all the children in the community who have been named after him, boys and girls alike. He has tried his hardest to exhort his community to avoid having such large families, but they never listen to him. He gets into a quarrel with Portia and she begs him not to quarrel with her. She tells him his contentiousness is exhausting every time she comes to see him. She tells him the story of B.F. Mason, a swindler who came to the community saying he was a government man come to sell government pensions. After getting money from almost everyone in the community, he left town. Doctor Copeland tries to use this as an illustration of his idea that African Americans are taken advantage of, but Portia cuts him off with her own ideas of the lesson to be learned. For Portia, the man will be punished in the afterlife.
Doctor Copeland goes into a harangue, saying if he had only ten Negroes with backbone, he would be able to accomplish something. He says even four would do, his children, for instance, Hamilton, Karl Marx, William, and Portia. Portia interrupts him to say that they do have backbone and that she resents being called a Negro. She tells her father "a person canít pick up they children and just squeeze them to which-a-way they wants them to be." He begins to cry and she comforts him, saying she is sorry for having hurt his feelings. He denies that his feelings were hurt as tears stream down his cheeks. They agree again that they wonít quarrel.