Taylor, Mildred D. 1975. Roll of Thunder,
Hear My Cry. New York: Phyllis Fogelman Books. ISBN: 0-8037-2647-3.
A Newbery Award winner, Roll of Thunder,
Hear My Cry is the well-written, believable story of the Logans, an African-American family who retain their strength,
dignity, and land despite poverty and extreme racism. Set in Mississippi in 1933, at the height of the Depression, the novel is told in
nine-year-old Cassie’s voice. Cassie, an only girl with one older and two younger brothers, is feisty and independent,
and she has grown up protected by her loving family and by the fact that her family owns land, unlike the other Blacks in
the area. Through the year, the family and community undergo a series of struggles,
and Cassie witnesses racism through vengeful acts toward her parents for helping to organize a boycott of local stores, personal
incidents with a shopkeeper and a white girl, night rider brigades, and a near lynching of T.J., her brother’s friend.
By the end of the story, Cassie has lost her innocence, and she fully understands
why her father fiercely protects his land. In her father’s words, “You
were born blessed…with land of your own. If you hadn’t been, you’d cry out for it while you try to survive”
The plot moves slowly at times, but generally
it holds one’s interest, and readers are rewarded for their persistence. The
first part centers on school and the children’s attempts to seek justice with the school bus driver and mean Lillian
Jean. In the second half, the plot becomes more action-oriented: Papa and Mama
organize a boycott, Papa gets shot, Mama loses her job, the family struggles to pay their mortgage, T.J. gets in trouble,
a crowd nearly lynches him, and Papa sets his land on fire to stop the lynching. The Logans
are such a warm family, readers will admire their closeness, feel like they know them, and even wish they could be part of
Roll My Thunder, Hear My Cry
is filled with cultural markers such as religion, celebrations, food, family, community, and language patterns/dialect.
Taylor does not focus on physical appearance, music, or dress. Much social life centers around the church; the biggest
social event of the year is a week-long revival in August. The revival “feast
to remember” includes turnip greens, black-eyed peas with “ham hocks,” ham, broiled ribs, fried chicken,
cornbread, sweet-potato pie, and more (234). The extended family is close, and it includes a grandmother (Big Ma) and an uncle
who provides emotional and financial support. Furthermore, the family reaches out to Black neighbors quickly when the neighbors
have difficulties. The Logans converse in a Black southern dialect. For example,
Cassie says, “But I told him he shouldn’t’ve been ‘round there waiting on everybody else ‘fore
he got to us” (121).
Taylor also provides ample evidence that
Blacks are treated as second class citizens.. The children attend Great Faith
School, an all Black school that has poor facilities and old textbooks passed down
from aWhite school. When Cassie and Big Ma go to the town to sell dairy products, they must put their wagon in the back because
White folks have the choice spots. The shopkeeper waits on the White customers, although Cassie is there first.
“More than a work of fiction, this
is a story culled from Ms. Taylor’s own family’s life, and it stands as an important record of an African-American
experience from our country’s complicated and not-so-distant past” (www.penguinputnam.com). The story offers an
authentic view of what life was like in that time and setting, and often the picture is not pretty or “politically correct.”
Some students may have trouble believing that life was so rough for Blacks, and teachers might supplement the book with nonfiction
about the pre-civil rights era. This unforgettable novel is appropriate for ages
9 and up.
(Note: Please see
"Author Study - Taylor (6)" for a comparison of Roll My Thunder, Hear My Cry and The Well).
Below you will
find links to this and other related web sites.