Only in Addy Learns a Lesson
Chapter by Chapter Summary
Chapter One: A New Home
Addy and her mother have just arrived on a pier in Philadelphia. Addy is intimidated by the cranes and ships all around them, and sympathizes with the freshly caught fish gasping in the smoky city air, observing the bustling crowds of people. She sees a man scooping up a laughing young girl and wishes aloud that Sam and Poppa could be there, and Momma reminds her they're on their own. The book briefly summarizes the previous book's events, including the sale of Sam and Poppa, before Addy asks if she and Momma should be waiting somewhere else. Momma insists the boat captain told them to wait there, and Addy glances at the nearby signs, wishing she could read them. Momma says they can't trust passers by in the big city to read the signs for them. Half an hour later, Addy spies a woman and a girl approaching them, the girl skipping and waving with a sunny smile. The woman apologizes for being late and explains that they'd been waiting on the wrong pier (for the Libby instead of the Liberty), then introduces herself as Mrs. Moore and her daughter as Sarah. Sarah shakes hands with Addy, and Mrs. Moore explains that they belong to the Freedom Society of Trinity AME Church, who helps newly escaped slaves get settled in the city. As they walk away from the pier, Sarah asks Addy where she's from. Addy answers North Carolina, and Sarah says her family was enslaved in Virginia, but her teacher Miss Dunn was from North Carolina like Addy. Addy is astonished to hear about colored people who can not only read, but teach school. Sarah asks if Addy will be attending school and Addy says she will be. Sarah explains briefly what they do at the school--spelling matches, arithmetic lessons, and even studying the war. When the streets get busier, Sarah holds Addy's hand, saying she doesn't want Addy getting lost. As Addy marvels at the variety of people around her, Sarah points out a street sign and explains what it's for, that they're on Second Street. Addy hopes Miss Dunn will teach her to read like she has taught Sarah.
Addy can't believe her eyes when they arrive at Trinity AME Church. It's huge, with a pipe organ, choir loft, and a pulpit up front. According to Sarah, the writing above the pulpit reads "Peace be within thy walls". Addy and Momma enjoy the first big feast of their lives in the church basement, among a crowd of church members and a handful of other new arrivals. Mrs. Moore asks what kind of work Momma is good at, and Momma says she sews--mostly mending on the plantation, but occasionally making entire garments. Mrs. Moore says there's a white woman named Mrs. Ford, who is looking for an assistant in her dress shop and may have a room the Walkers can stay in. They walk two blocks to the dress shop, which is crowded with fabrics, trimmings, partially finished dresses, and boxes. Mrs. Moore introduces Momma as Ruth Walker, a good seamstress. Mrs. Ford, though a self-proclaimed abolitionist, is initially skeptical (as the last seamstress Mrs. Moore recommended had gotten married and moved away shortly after being hired), but ends up hiring Momma on a trial basis for a dollar a week. She warns that she runs a first-rate dress shop, serving rich and picky customers, and Momma would be expected to make deliveries. Mrs. Ford then takes Addy and Momma up three flights of narrow stairs to a tiny attic room furnished with a bed, table, chairs, and a stove. Though it's smaller than the Walkers' slave cabin back on the plantation, it has something that cabin didn't--a window. Momma puts her arm around Addy's shoulders, saying they'll make it a home.
Chapter Two: Freedom?
A week later, Addy is looking out the window in her and Momma’s attic. None of the magic Addy had dreamed of when imagining freedom had happened. Momma works long hours sewing dresses for rich ladies, and Addy is not allowed to hang around the dress shop because it’s a place of business. All the window brings her is the stink and sounds of the city, but Addy is too afraid to go out on her own in such a big, unfamiliar place--except to the privy in a back alley. Suddenly, Sarah comes running up the stairs. Addy asks if she has to help her mother with the Moores’ laundry work, and Sarah says she’s on an errand for bluing and soap and their mothers agreed she can bring Addy along. On the way, Sarah talks about the double desks at school and that her mother is letting her wear the previous year’s Christmas dress to the first day of school. Addy looks down at her pink dress and asks if anyone dresses fancy at school. Sarah says some do, including a rich girl named Harriet who owns lots of pretty dresses. A streetcar goes by, and Sarah explains that they take people all over the city for a fare...and that she and Addy can’t ride it because that streetcar is for white people only. Moreover, the streetcars that do let colored people ride make them stand on the outside platform no matter the weather, for the same price as whites pay, Addy is confused and says it isn’t fair, to which Sarah responds that’s the way it is.
Addy tells Momma about the segregated streetcars that night, saying she thought Philadelphia was where freedom was supposed to be. Momma explains that freedom is more than riding a streetcar: she now has a paying job, Addy can go to school, and no one owns them, She adds that an education is a freedom no one can take away once someone has it. Addy points out that they have to buy necessities like food, candles, coal, and matches that all cost a lot, and Momma says freedom got a cost, like Uncle Solomon had said.
On the first day of school, Momma helps Addy put on her pink dress, which she has washed and ironed to look like new. She hugs Addy, claiming that the latter is a smart girl, as Sarah bursts in wearing a dark green dress with white trim. Momma compliments her dress as she ties a bit of green cloth to Addy’s lunch pail so she can tell which pail is hers. Momma tells the girls to stay safe, and Sarah links arms with Addy and says she won’t let anything bad happen to her. The girls set off for school.
Sixth Street School is a brick building near the church. Addy is intimidated by the large crowd of colored people of various ages, but follows Sarah to their classroom. She sees rows of desks, a stove for heat, and chalkboards (which she doesn’t recognize), as well as several other students. Miss Dunn enters the room, seeming to glide over the floor in her hoopskirt, and asks who Sarah’s friend is. Sarah introduces Addy to Miss Dunn, who kindly tells Addy that she herself started school at Addy’s age and it’s normal to be a bit confused at first. When the bell rings, Sarah brings Addy to her double desk in the back row. Miss Dunn introduces herself to the class, saying she recognizes most of them but there are a few new faces. She announces that permanent seat assignments will be made the next day, then has each student share his or her name before copying text from the blackboard. Sarah helps Addy copy the alphabet, which gives her trouble since she doesn’t know how to hold a slate pencil. Miss Dunn says Addy is doing well for her first time writing, then writes four letters on one half of her slate, asking Addy to copy her own name. Addy stares at it, the first time she’s seen her name written down, before carefully writing it herself. She realized that one of her dreams--writing--has come true, as well as something she hadn’t even dreamed of: friendship.
Chapter Three: Tested
The next morning, Miss Dunn announces the new seat assignments. Addy is placed with Harriet Davis, to Sarah’s disappointment. Miss Dunn explains that she wants Addy near the front of the room and that Sarah’s new seatmate will be Clara Johnson. Addy sits next to Harriet, noticing her light brown skin, loose curls, and fancy yellow dress and realizing this must be the rich girl Sarah had mentioned. Harriet asks if Addy knows the alphabet, and Addy says Sarah is teaching it to her. Harriet frowns, saying Sarah can barely read and it’s a good thing Addy is now with her as Harriet is very smart, has been reading since age four, and was named after Harriet Tubman of the Underground Railroad. At lunch, Sarah asks if Addy likes sitting with Harriet, and Addy says Harriet is smart and wears fancy clothes. Sarah tells Addy that a dress like Harriet’s costs more money than her own parents make in a whole month. Addy says Momma might find a way to afford such a dress, since Harriet’s mother could, and Sarah interrupts that she’s sick of hearing about Harriet. Addy is surprised by her friend’s abruptness, and Sarah explains that Harriet is only nice to rich people (she was nice in class because Miss Dunn was watching) and tries to make poor girls like Sarah and Addy her slaves. Sarah shares that Harriet tried that with her but Sarah wouldn’t let her, thus why Harriet no longer even pretends to like Sarah. Addy says Harriet is going to help teach her, not try to hurt her.
Addy quickly becomes fascinated with Harriet, who has everything Addy had dreamed freedom would bring her--a different pretty dress each day, amazingly fast at schoolwork. She always takes time to correct Addy’s mistakes. Some of her corrections confuse Addy, but she waits to ask Sarah at lunch as Harriet is annoyed by questions. On her first spelling test, Addy is discouraged to learn that she got twelve words wrong out of twenty. Miss Dunn says she still got several right and she’s learning very fast considering she couldn’t read when she arrived. She suggests that Addy ask her mother for help with the words she missed, but Addy doesn’t want to admit her mother can’t read--not with Harriet nearby. Walking home from school, Addy tells Sarah that it’s too late for her to learn to spell, and Sarah says she didn’t do too well on the test either and should have studied more. When Addy says she missed words despite studying hard, Sarah admits that she got all the words wrong because she was too busy helping her mother with laundry work to study at all. Addy offers to do her studying together with Sarah, who responds that she’d like that. When Addy walks into Mrs. Ford’s shop, the only person there is Momma, crying in the back of the store next to three packages. She explains that Mrs. Ford went out on an errand, writing the addresses for the deliveries on a piece of paper. Momma doesn’t dare tell Mrs. Ford she can’t read, and Mrs. Ford will expect the packages gone when she returns. Addy looks at the paper and realizes she can only read one of the addresses. She asks Momma if she can catch up with Sarah, who not only can read but also knows her way around Philadelphia. Momma agrees and the packages are soon delivered with Sarah’s help.
That evening, Momma tells Addy over supper that she doesn’t deserve her job because she hasn’t been honest to Mrs. Ford about her illiteracy. Addy offers to teach her to read, repeating Sarah’s advice that it’s never too late to learn and adding that teaching Momma will be good spelling practice for her. Over the next few weeks, Addy teaches Momma the alphabet by forming scraps of dough into letters. Momma loves spelling Sam, Poppa, and Esther, saying that reading their names makes her feel closer to them. Between Momma’s lessons, school, and Sarah, Addy’s reading improves greatly, but she still admires Harriet and her circle of rich friends as the example of what freedom can bring. When the girls are walking home one day, Addy spots Harriet’s group just ahead of her and Sarah and suggests they catch up with them. Sarah says she won’t walk with Harriet but Addy can if she wants. Addy tries to convince her to come, saying they’re all walking the same way, but Sarah repeats loudly that she won’t walk with Harriet. Harriet hears and turns around, calling back that no one asked Sarah to walk with them but Addy can come if she wants. Sarah won’t look at Harriet or Addy, and Addy doesn’t know what to do. Harriet disappears around the corner with a last shout that Sarah isn’t the boss of Addy and Addy can do what she wants.
Chapter Four: The Lines Are Drawn
Addy collects scraps of dough as Momma cuts out biscuits for their supper. Momma asks if Addy knows how to spell family and Addy begins shaping the dough into letters, asking what Momma thinks Esther is doing right then. Momma says Esther is probably eating supper, and Addy responds that she misses her, Poppa, and Sam. She asks when they’ll all be a family again and Momma insists they are a family no matter what.
At school, Miss Dunn announces that it looks like the Union is winning the war. The class cheers, and Miss Dunn says the soldiers should know that they are supported. Harriet announces that her mother is a volunteer nurse for colored soldiers, some of whom are missing limbs. Miss Dunn says the war has been very bloody, and anyone who makes it back alive is lucky. Every Northern soldier, she says, is a hero, so the entire school will be walking to Baltimore Depot to show their support for a troop of colored soldiers on their way to battle. Billy Maples says he wishes he was old enough to be a soldier so he could be a hero--lost limbs or no. Sarah asks Miss Dunn why there had to be a war at all, and Miss Dunn says sometimes people fight for what they believe is right even if they don’t want to. Sarah starts to say she still wishes there wasn’t a war, but Harriet says Sarah should be glad because the war will free the slaves and Sarah was one. Miss Dunn reprimands Harriet, saying almost all the colored people there used to be slaves. Harriet brags that her family was always free, and Miss Dunn looks tense. She explains that the majority of colored people in the US either were enslaved or are related to a current or former slave, and that one of the reasons for the war is that slavery creates a line between white people and colored people. She turns to Harriet and adds that they don’t need any more lines being drawn between people, whether or not anyone used to be a slave. Harriet agrees reluctantly, sounding embarrassed. Miss Dunn says it’s time to leave for the depot and tells the class to line up with their seatmates. On the way, Harriet asks Addy if she’s walking home with her or if she needs Sarah’s permission. Addy replies that she’s walking with Harriet. The students reach the depot, watching the straight rows of soldiers marching by, wearing their blue uniforms with brass buttons. The students applaud, but Addy notices a few onlookers crying instead. She sees a soldier who looks vaguely like Sam and almost cries herself, instead whispering to Harriet that her brother wanted to be a soldier. Harriet, sounding bored, responds that her uncle serves in the 3rd Infantry (the first colored regiment organized in the state). Addy wishes she knew where Sam was the way Harriet knew about her uncle.
When school ends, Addy tells Sarah that Harriet asked her to walk with her group, asking Sarah to accompany her. Sarah says she can’t come along, sounding hurt. Addy is about to say something when Harriet calls for Addy to follow her. Addy races to catch up, still feeling torn about leaving Sarah alone, and Harriet asks how Addy thinks she’ll do in the upcoming spelling match. Addy says she hopes she’ll do well as she’s been studying hard, and Mavis, one of Harriet’s friends, says 75 words to learn is a lot. Another girl says Harriet doesn’t even need to study, and Harriet says they’ve been meeting after school at her house to practice. She and the others hand their books and slates to Addy to carry. Addy asks why she has to carry all the heavy books, and Harriet says that Addy must be their flunky if she wants to hang out with them. Addy asks what a flunky is, but is only answered with giggles and Harriet’s remark that she can tell Addy just got off the plantation. Harriet tells Addy that she needs to be the flunky because she’s new, like passing a test before she can be friends with them. Addy is confused, but knows they won’t tell her more. At Mrs. Ford’s, the other girls quickly take their books back as Addy walks inside. Momma and Mrs. Ford are busy sewing, and Addy asks Mrs. Ford if she can talk to Momma for a minute. Mrs. Ford tells her to make it quick. Addy asks Momma if she can go to Harriet’s house and study tomorrow, and Momma says only if Sarah goes with her. She asks where Sarah is and Addy mumbles that Sarah didn’t want to walk with her that day, and it’s okay because Addy knows the way now. She climbs the stairs slowly, wondering how she’ll be able to go to Harriet’s without Sarah, since a line has been drawn between them that neither girl will cross.
Chapter Five: The Spelling Match
Addy walks to school the next morning with a silent Sarah. She asks if Sarah is angry at her, and Sarah says she isn’t, but does not elaborate. Addy rushes to her desk and tells Harriet that Momma told her she could go to Harriet’s house and study. Harriet says she’s mostly done studying already, but only says “maybe” to Addy’s offer to review the spelling words together. Addy spends the school day fantasizing about how fancy Harriet’s house must be, and what kind of toys she might have. Sarah offers to walk home with Addy at the end of the day, and Addy says she’s going to Harriet’s house. Sarah tells Addy to do what she wants, turning away before Addy can say another word. Harriet and her friends surround Addy, dumping their supplies into her arms. As they begin walking, Harriet tells the others that Sarah’s dress that day was so wrinkled, it looked as if she’d slept in it. Mavis adds that the dress was stained as well as wrinkled, and Harriet says Sarah’s mother must not be a good washerwoman if she can’t keep Sarah’s own clothes clean. Addy says that isn’t funny and Sarah’s clothes don’t matter, but Harriet says of course it matters and Addy shouldn’t care about Sarah now that Addy is on “their” side. Harriet adds that Addy at least looks presentable, despite wearing the same dress everyday--does she even have any others? Addy answers no, and Mavis says Addy still looks good enough to be their flunky. Harriet agrees, saying that Sarah didn’t but Addy is a perfect flunky. Addy feels sick.
At Mrs. Ford’s shop, Harriet takes her books off the pile in Addy’s arms. Addy, confused, says she can come help them study, and Harriet says she doesn’t think so. Addy protests that the spelling match is tomorrow, but Harriet simply repeats “not today” and hurries away, the other girls taking their books and following. Addy stands there a moment, then rushes inside, all the way upstairs before flinging herself on the bed. She thinks that Sarah had been right--Harriet only wanted Addy to be her slave, not her friend. Addy knows she chose to be Harriet’s slave and cries in shame, clutching her shell necklace.
Addy wakes up on the morning of the spelling match and looks for her dress, which is usually hanging over the back of a chair. In its place is a white blouse and a matching blue skirt and jacket trimmed with black braid. Momma explains she made the outfit so Addy will look her best for the spelling match. Addy hugs her, and Momma helps her dress, saying she’s been working on the outfit for weeks after Addy went to bed, hoping to surprise her. She fastens Addy’s skirt and proclaims Addy looks like a fancy city girl, and that she’ll be proud no matter how well Addy does in the spelling match. Addy privately feels like she doesn’t deserve the new clothes as she walks to school and sits through the morning classes. By the time the spelling match starts, Addy feels queasy. The first speller is Harriet, who correctly spells carriage, speaking very fast. Sarah spells button right next. Addy is asked to spell tomorrow and nearly spells it wrong trying to spell fast like Harriet, but catches herself and gets it right. As other students spell, Harriet whispers to Addy that she’s having a party once she wins, and she might invite Addy. Two rounds later, half the class has been eliminated and it’s Sarah’s turn. Despite Addy’s silent encouragement, Sarah spells account without a U and sits down. Addy plans to spell her word wrong on purpose as an apology, but Harriet whispers that Sarah is dumb to have missed such an easy word. Addy spells her word correctly, thinking she’ll show Harriet. Two more rounds follow; Addy spells bridge and scissors right. The fifth round consists of Addy and Harriet only, and the word is principle. Harriet is called first, but spells it with an S instead of a C. Miss Dunn tells Addy she needs to spell the same word correctly to win. Slowly, Addy spells: “P, R, I, N, C, I, P, L, E”. Miss Dunn pins a medal to her jacket as the class applauds.
After the spelling match, the class is allowed to eat lunch outside since the weather is warm. Many of Addy’s classmates congratulate her on their way outside, but Harriet snaps that she’d have beaten Addy if she herself had studied at all and that Miss Dunn gave Addy easier words. Mavis says Harriet is only jealous because Addy spelled the word Harriet missed. Mavis admires Addy’s outfit, asking where her mother bought it. Addy says Momma made it, and Mavis responds that she wishes her mother could sew. Harriet calls her friends, and they head for the front steps to eat. Addy opens her desk and begins digging through it. Miss Dunn asks why she’s inside by herself on such a special day, and adds that she doubts Addy will find what she’s looking for inside the desk when Addy doesn’t answer. Miss Dunn asks Addy to look at her. Addy does, and Miss Dunn says she suspect Addy’s feeling bad about the lines that have been drawn between some girls in the class. Addy says she doesn’t know how to get rid of the lines, that she’s hurt Sarah and wouldn’t blame her if Sarah never spoke to her again. Miss Dunn says everyone makes mistakes and Addy has learned a lesson about friendship, then adds that Addy can’t fix anything by hiding inside before leaving. Addy opens her lunch pail, sees what Momma has left on top, and hurries outside to find Sarah, who is sitting under a small tree. Addy apologizes to Sarah, saying she wanted to be friends with Harriet because she’s rich and popular, but Harriet wasn’t a real friend and Sarah is. She asks if Sarah will still be her friend, and Sarah smiles and says yes. Sarah touches Addy’s medal, saying she’d wanted Addy to win. Addy says she wanted Sarah to win and was sad when Sarah missed her word. She offers to study spelling together with Sarah, opening her lunch pail to reveal their first word: four cookies spelling out the word love.
Looking Back: School in 1864
Discusses the education of African Americans during the Civil War. Topics covered:
- The many African Americans who learned to read and write despite the difficulties they faced.
- Southern Whites not wanting Blacks to read and write, for fear that they'll read about freedom in the North and write passes that would say they were free to leave their plantations.
- Punishments for those who were caught educating Blacks and the Blacks who were taught how to read and write.
- The secret lessons Black children in the South took to educate themselves.
- Masters who would educate their slaves despite the laws-some slave owner's wives and children even taught slaves themselves without the owner knowing.
- The segregation of schools in the 1860s, with some public schools being so poor that some Black parents would send their children to other small schools with better conditions.
- Subjects students studied in school and the songs children sang to stay patriotic during the Civil War.
- The rising demand for African American teachers, prompting many to attend Philadelphia's Institute for Colored Youth, America's first high school for Black students.
- The creation of freedman schools to help educate newly freed slaves in the South, with many schools being set up wherever space was available.
- The high success of freedman schools, despite the anger and threats from those who believed African Americans should remain uneducated.