Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
Interests: history, American history, racism, civil rights, the Great Depression, family
Other books by Mildred D. Taylor about the Logan family: Song of the Trees, Let the Circle be Unbroken, The Friendship, The Road to Memphis, Mississippi Bridge, The Land
The Logans are black landowners in 1930s Mississippi, eking out a meager living during the Great Depression, in the shadow of burnings, lynchings, and the terrifying night riders. Owning land gives the Logans a little control over their destiny, but times are still very hard. The children don’t always understand the pressures their parents face, or why things are the way they are. Why does the white school have a bus and lots of books, when the black school is barely scraping by? When a white girl humiliates Cassie in public, why does Cassie’s grandmother tell her to not make a fuss about it? And most importantly, who are the night riders, and will they come some night to the Logans’ farm?
The narrator of the story is Cassie, the middle Logan child and only girl, aged nine. She is a lively child, with a strong moral sense and fists to back up her beliefs. It is particularly hard for her to understand the injustice she experiences daily simply because of the colour of her skin. Her parents work hard to keep their children safe, but are compelled to take a stand when a vigilante mob burns two black men. The attack leaves one man dead and the other badly disfigured, but the crime is never investigated by authorities. In protest, Mr. and Mrs. Logan lead the black sharecroppers in a boycott of the store owned by two of the night riders. This campaign is short-lived but still results in the night riders targeting Cassie’s father.
A more immediate danger rises, however, when a black teen – a friend of the Logans – is set up by young white “friends” of his to take the fall for a botched robbery and murder. The night riders arrive at the boy’s home late at night, threatening to burn the whole family out and lynch the boy, as a terrified Cassie and her brothers watch from the bushes. The lynching is narrowly averted thanks to some quick thinking by Cassie’s father, but the boy is arrested and Cassie knows he will likely be tried and executed.
This is a sobering look at a terrible time, and does not backpedal the lawlessness and terror of the period. Cassie and her brothers grow up very quickly as danger swirls around their family. Because of the violence and the complex, rather mature plot I wouldn’t recommend this book for readers younger than eleven. As dark as the subject matter is, however, the overall tone is hopeful and we feel that the Logans will persist and survive despite all adversity. This was an important, highly acclaimed novel when it was released and still holds a strong message today.