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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976)

by Mildred D. Taylor

Title: Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Author: Mildred D. Taylor

Publisher/ Date: Bantam Books 1984 (Fifteenth Printing)

ISBN: 0-553-24402-7

Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry cover
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry cover

"Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O'Hara, that Tara, that land doesn't mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing worth workin' for, worth fightin' for, worth dyin' for, because its the only thing that lasts." -- Gerald O'Hara Gone With The Wind 1939

The Plot

Through the Southern soil emerges a sense of Logan identity; ownership which provides a place of belonging where family is revered, courage is born, pride is nurtured, and self-respect is strengthened. The Logans, descendants of slaves living in Mississippi during the Great Depression, own four hundred acres of land previously owned by a prominent white family, the Grangers. "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" by Mildred Taylor describes the circumstances of one stormy year set in the 1930's in which innocence is lost and the realization of one's "place" is found. Told through the eyes of nine-year old Cassie Logan, the reader is shown the extreme discrimination Blacks experienced in the segregated South prior to the Civil Rights Movement.

Cassie and her three brothers, Stacey, Christopher-John, and Little Man, are making the long walk to their school when they meet up with T.J., a fellow classmate. T.J. tells Cassie and her brothers, "I betcha I could give y'all an earful 'bout that burnin' last night." T.J. tells them that a few black men were lit on fire by a group of white men. This burning incident results in Cassie's parents starting a boycott of the store that is owned by the Wallaces, the men responsible for the burning. The boycott however causes even more trouble for Cassie's family and the black community. The Logan family owns their own land, which is very rare for blacks. Mr.Granger, a white plantation owner who lives near the Logans, has been wanting to buy back the Logan's property. After the boycott of the Wallace's store is started Mr. Granger goes to great lengths to try to get the Logan's to lose their land. Papa has a job working for the railroad that keeps him away from his family most of the time. He makes an unexpected visit and he brings a man along with him. With him is Mr.Morrison, a giant of a man, that was fired from working on the railroad. Mr. Morrison joins the Logan family as a presence to be reckoned with against the whites who may take advantage of Mr.Logan's family in his absence.

Cassie has been taught that no one is better than anyone else, so she doesn't understand the actions of the white people against the Blacks. Events occur which goad Cassie and her brothers into the reality of "coloredness". On the first day of school the children see that they are getting new books this year. But after a closer look they realize these are not new books. The chart on the inside cover shows tracks the issuance of the books, first to whites in new condition, then to very poor-suitable for "nigras." This especially bothers Little Man and he lets his teacher know it. Little Man's teacher, black Miss Daisy Crocker, chooses to overlook the stamped chart on the inside cover of their textbooks tracking issuance first to whites in new condition, then to very poor -suitable for nigras. Instead, Miss Crocker chooses to ignore the insult to preserve her professional security. Mama takes a stand, despite disapproval from Miss Crocker, and glues paper over the charts. Later some white men from the school board, Mr.Granger included, visit the school and observe Mama's teaching. Mr.Granger questions her teaching when he opens one of the books,sees the inside cover and realizes that she is not teaching the material in the book. She doesn't teach everything in the book because she says "all that's in that book isn't true." Mr.Granger tells her to forget about teaching altogether and that way she'll have plenty of time to write her own book. Mr.Granger knows that without Mama's teaching job the Logan's land is at risk as they may not be able to make the payments and taxes.

Events escalate even further. After mama is fired from her job Papa knows that he must get back to working on the railroad. But before he goes he and Mr. Morrison take a trip to Vicksburg to shop for the families that are with them in boycotting the Wallace's store. He also takes Stacey along with them. Mama, Big Ma, and the children nervously await their return. It begins to get late and the family knows that Papa, Stacey, and Mr. Morrison should have returned. Just as Mama thinks of going and looking for them, Mr.Morrison and Stacey walk in carrying Papa, who has been shot and run over by the wagon. Their wagon wheels are believed to have been tampered with and while they stopped to try and fix them some white men drove up in a truck. Papa was shot and then fell off the wagon. Stacey could not control the horse attatched to the wagon and Papa's leg was run over. Because of his injuries Papa is not able to go back to work, just one more thing that could get in the way of keeping their land.

The family perserveres and their are able to make their land payment when Uncle Hammer sells his beloved car. The tension builds late one night when Stacey, Cassie, Christopher-John, and Little Man are awakened by T.J. T.J.comes to them after he gets beat up by R.W. and Melvin Simms, two white boys who claimed to have been T.J.'s friends. The white boys involved T.J. in a robbery that resulted in murder and made it look like T.J. was responsible. When T.J. protested and said that he was going to say who was really responsible, R.W. and Melvin beat him up. The Logan children sneak out to take T.J. home. But a group of white men, including some of the Wallace's and Simmses, arrive at T.J. house and they are ready to hang him for the robbery and murder. Stacey knows he must do something to save T.J. so he sends Cassie, Christopher-John, and Little Man, home to get their father and Mr. Morrison. The men leave and Papa says to Mama on the way out, "I'll do what I have to do, Mary...and so will you." Not long after Papa and Mr.Morrison have left Mama smells smoke in the air. To their horror they see that their cotton is on fire. Mama and Big Ma run down to fight the fire. Cassie and her younger brothers are instructed to wait at the house but when dawn approaches Cassie decides to go and check things out. When she gets to the cotton field she sees Black men working beside white men to fight the fire, and among the white men are Mr.Granger, Kaleb Wallace, and Mr. Simms. Cassie learns that Mr. Jamison, their lawyer, had helped to stop T.J.'s hanging and that is when Mr. Granger noticed the fire and instructed that T.J. be handed over to the sheriff so the rest of the white men could fight the fire before it spread even further. Cassie later realizes that her Papa had set fire to their cotton on purpose in order to save T.J. But Papa was honest with the children when he told them that T.J. could possibly be on the chain gang or even die. Cassie doesn't understand what happened to T.J. but she knew that those things that happened that night "would not pass." She went to bed that night crying for T.J. and the land.

The racial division of the 1930's justified in white men's minds the burnings, lynchings, tarrings, beatings, and verbal threats to maintain supremacy and control. The "night men" terrorized the black community with arrogant, unchecked ruthlessness and naive Cassie learns that fear is to be a part of her existence. She also learns that being legal, right, moral and innocent does not always ensure safety nor victory for her race.

Recommendation for Readers:

This novel is easy reading suitable for middle schoolers. It will hold their attention while expanding their understanding of the culture of racism, of fear and subserviance of blacks and the domineering arrogance of the old southern whites. It portrays events that prompted the Civil Rights Movement thirty years later.

Major Characters:

  • Cassie Logan: Narrator of the novel, nine-year old,only daughter of Mary and David Logan, a protected, naive, black girl unaware of the violence and injustice of the old, deep South is forced into reality of black life in the course of one year.
  • Stacey, Christopher-John and Clayton Chester (Little Man): 12, 7, and 6 years old respectfully. Brothers to Cassie
  • David (Papa) Logan: A proud farmer of his own land forced to work off the farm to meet expenses and support his family especially when the bank tries to foreclose.
  • Mary (Mama) Logan : A teacher at Great Faith School for fourteen years, bringing up her children with a strong sense of justice and racial pride, is fired by the white school board for pasting over the inside fly pages of the textbooks passed down to Negro students.
  • Caroline (Big Ma) Logan: Grandmother and matriarch, widow of Paul, who signs over the land to her sons, David and Hammer, to keep it in the family. She shares the home with David's family, is very religious, and is a provider of medical care to her community.
  • Hammer Logan: Big Ma's other living son who has moved to the North and drives a Packard like Mr. Granger's.
  • He is very outspoken, has a temper but in a spirit of generosity and family allegiance sells his Packard to help protect the family land.
  • Harlan Granger: Owner of a ten-square-mile plantation farmed by sharecroppers, who wants to reclaim land sold to the Logans during the Reconstruction. He is a member of the school board that fired Mama. He employs tactics to force the Logans to sell their property back to him.
  • Mr. L.T. Morrison: A man that Papa brings home from the railroad yards. He is large in stature and very strong which serves to help protect the Logans and their land.
  • T.J. Avery: An emaciated thirteen-year-old who tries to befriend the Logan children, especially Stacey. He is repeating Mama's 7th grade class where he cheats, gets Mama fired, and strains his relationship with Stacey. T.J. aligns himself with the white Simms brothers and his life spirals out of control.

Related Links:

Gone With the Wind

I Have A Dream

KKK in West Michigan

History of the KKK

Lesson Plans for Teachers

About the Author

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Mildred Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi on September 13, 1943. Soon after Taylor was born her father made the decision to leave the segregated South for Ohio where his family would have better opportunities. Throughout Taylor's childhood her family often visited Mississippi. During those visits Taylor learned about her family history and storytelling, which influenced her writing career. Through stories she learned about her great-grandfather, who was the son of a white plantation owner in Alabama and a slave woman. Her great-grandfather ran away and settled down in Mississippi. The land that he purchased in Mississippi in the late 1800's is still owned by Taylor's family.
Taylor graduated from Scott High School in 1961 and from the University of Toledo in 1965. After graduating from college she joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in Ethiopia. After returning from Ethiopia Taylor enrolled in the University of Colorado to earn her master's degree. After graduating from the University of Colorado she moved to Los Angeles to begin her writing career. Taylor's first book, Song of the Trees, was published in 1975 and given the Council on Interracial Books for Children Award. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry was her second novel and it won the Newberry Award from the American Library Association in 1977. All of her novels are on stories she has heard from her own family's experiences and most of the characters are based on family members or aquaintances she has learned about.

Other Works

Check out these other works by Mildred D. Taylor!
  • Mississippi Bridge
  • The Well
  • The Friendship
  • Let the Circle Be Unbroken
  • Song of the Trees
  • The Gold Cadillac

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Not convinced? Watch this review from a real-life 6th grader, Harrison Corthell.

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