"Son, after I'm gone I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy's country ever since I gave up my gun back in the Reconstruction. Live with your head in the Lion's mouth. I want you to overcome them with yeses, undermine em with grins, agree em to death and destruction, let em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open" (16)
This quote - the dying words of the narrator's grandfather - sets up most of the first chapter very well. I suspect it will set up the rest of the book very well, but I cannot make a definite judgement on that since I haven't read most of the book at this point.
The best single word that both encapsulates the grandfather's dying speech and the first chapter in general (as well as a single word can encapsulate such things) is humility.
Humility presents itself in two very different ways in chapter 1. There is a first type of humility that is ingrained in one's existence. It becomes as much of a person as primal desires are, it is a defining characteristic of one's existence. This is the type of humility that the "town's leading white citizens" (at the community gathering) want in the black populace.
The second humility is one of illusion. It is a tool, an attack that -like a tick or leach- is able to gain strength through remaining undetected. This is the humility that the narrator's grandfather described. He (the grandfather) was in full, conscious control of his humility - and that is what separates his humility (of the second type) from the narrator's father who, by having no conscious control or understanding of his humility, has ingrained it into his existence (the first type).
The narrator in chapter 1 is stuck in a sort of limbo between these two polar opposites.
(1) "On my graduation day I delivered an oration in which I showed that humility was the secret, indeed, the very essence of progress. (Not that I believed this - how could I, remembering my grandfather? - I only believed that it worked.)" (17)
(2) "Should I try to win against the voice out there? Would not this go against my speech, and was not this a moment for humility, for nonresistance?" (25)
(3) "Then on a sudden impulse I struck him lightly and as we clinched, I whispered, 'Fake like I knocked you out, you can have the prize.'
'I'll break your behind,' he whispered hoarsely.
'For me, sonofabitch!"
These are three quotes that show that the narrator has a pretty good understanding of what his grandfather was saying. The narrator is sort of 'sucking up' to the white towns leaders, and the humility that he talks so passionately about in his speech is certainly not ingrained in him (for we see him in all three quotes using it as a tool - to curry favor or attempt to avoid pain). In the third quote the other fighter does not have this understanding. By letting humility become a part of him, he partly destroys his own identity, accepts his second class status, and refuses to use illusions ( in this case faking unconsciousness) to trick the white town folk (who just want to see two blacks beat the hell out of each other).
But as soon as the narrator get's his briefcase and scholarship to the black college, he feels that he has triumphed over the townsfolk. And while the objective act of giving someone a nice briefcase and a scholarship is certainly a kind act - knowing these rich white town leaders, it is fairly safe to assume that this was an act to push the narrator towards "leading his people in the proper paths" (32) and to "Keep this nigger-boy running" (33).