Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is a 1976 novel by Mildred D. Taylor, sequel to her 1975 novella Song of the Trees. It is a book about racism in America during the Great Depression. The novel won the 1977 Newbery Medal. It is followed by two more sequels, Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981), The Road to Memphis (1990), and a prequel to the Logan family saga, The Land (2001).
The novel explores life in southern Mississippi, in a climate of racism where many are persecuted for the color of their skin. Throughout the book, the reader learns about the importance of land and the effects of racism, at the same time as Cassie Logan (the narrator) learns 'the way things are'. It is key to this story that the narrator is a child as it adds emphasis upon what it was like to grow up in "The South", and it also helps the reader to understand the true impact of racism at this time.Plot
Nine-year-old Cassie Logan is walking to school with her siblings Stacey (twelve years old), Christopher-John (seven years old), and Little Man, whose real name is Clayton Chester Logan (six years old), in rural Mississippi. Cassie talks about the land on which the Logan family lives. It belonged to Harlan Granger, but he sold 2000 acres of it in 1886 to cover his taxes during Reconstruction. Their grandfather bought two hundred acres in 1887, then another two hundred acres in 1918. After several miles of walking, T.J. Avery and his brother appear. The Avery family sharecrops on the Granger plantation. At school, Cassie and Little Man go to their classroom, where Cassie's teacher, Miss Daisy Crocker, gives them their textbooks, worn-out, outdated castoffs from the white school with a chart that says only white kids used these books up until they were in bad condition, indicating their future uses are intended only for black students. Crocker meets with Cassie's mother, Mary, who calmly glues a piece of paper over the chart containing the racist indicator in all the books. She hands them back to a dumbstruck Crocker. That Saturday their father, David Logan, comes home from his railroad job in Louisiana, bringing with him L.T. Morrison to assist in planting, farming, protection and other jobs, as Morrison was fired from the railroad for a fight that was the white men's fault. Papa leaves the next day to catch a train.
The next week, Stacey and T.J. take an examination and T.J. creates cheat sheets that he gives to Stacey when he sees Mrs. Logan approaching. She finds the notes, accuses Stacey of cheating on the test and whips him in front of the class before failing him. After school, T.J. runs to the Wallace store, which the Logans forbid their children from visiting due to the Wallaces causing much of the black people's troubles. Stacey follows T.J. and the others follow Stacey. Mr. Morrison finds them fighting and separates them, much to the Wallaces' anger. Instead of telling their mother, Morrison leaves Stacey to do it himself. Stacey tells her and she takes the children to visit the Berrys. Mr. Berry is badly burned, gruesomely disfigured and mute. Mama explains that the Wallaces are responsible for this and that is why they are never to go near the Wallaces' store again.
The next day, Mama recruits people to boycott the Wallaces' store because they are the cause of most of the trouble between the blacks and the whites, and are alleged to be members of the "night men." Big Ma, Cassie's grandmother, takes Stacey, Cassie and T.J. to Strawberry (another town) and sells her goods at the market there, but away from the white people's wagons. After lunch, they visit the office of Mr. Jamison, their white lawyer and son of the man who sold them Harlan Granger's land. He is one of the few whites, esp. Southerners who treat black people equally. While there, T.J. takes Cassie and Stacey to the Barnett Mercantile to purchase items his family needs. T.J. admires a pearl-handled revolver on display, and says he wants to own it. Mr. Barnett begins serving T.J., but when white customers come in, Mr. Barnett interrupts his business with T.J. to serve them. Cassie reminds Mr. Barnett that they have been waiting for an hour; he tells her in racist terms to continue waiting. Cassie begins yelling at Mr. Barnett. Stacey tells her to be quiet, but Mr. Barnett ejects them both from the store.
Outside, Cassie accidentally bumps into Lillian Jean Simms on the sidewalk. Lillian Jean orders her to get down in the road and apologize. Cassie tries running, but Lillian Jean's father twists her arm and throws her onto the road and orders her to apologize by calling her "Miss Lillian Jean" as though she were an adult. To Cassie's horror, her grandmother reluctantly agrees with Mr. Simms, and she is forced to apologize.
When they get home, they find their uncle Hammer Logan from Chicago is visiting with a shiny silver Packard. Cassie tells him what happened and Hammer drives away seeking revenge. Mama tells Stacey to get Mr. Morrison to stop Hammer because she is worried Hammer will be lynched for attacking a white family. She later finds him alive and unharmed.
Before going to church, Hammer gives Stacey an early Christmas present, a wool coat whose sleeves are too long. At church, T.J. teases Stacey about the coat, claiming the ill-fitting sleeves make it look "like a preacher's coat". Eventually, T.J. convinces Stacey to give him the coat, since it would fit him better. Uncle Hammer is furious about this, but tells Stacey to let T.J. keep the coat.
Papa comes home for Christmas and is staying until spring. On Christmas night, Jeremy brings nuts for all the Logan children, as well as a handmade flute for Stacey. Papa warns Stacey to be careful about being friends with Jeremy, explaining that as he gets older, he may change and become as racist as the rest of his family. The next day, Papa calls the children into the barn, whips them and tells them never to go to the Wallace store again.
Time passes and Papa starts leading the boycott against the Wallaces' store. Mr. Jamison visits and Big Ma signs papers transferring the land to Papa and Hammer. Jamison also warns them to be careful, as they could still lose their land if they continue their boycott. Mr. Granger asks for the land again, but Papa still refuses. Hammer returns to Chicago.
Cassie makes "peace" with Lillian Jean, calling her "Miz Lillian Jean" and being her friend by carrying her books to and from school. As Lillian Jean begins trusting Cassie, she tells her all her own secrets, as well as those of her friends and brothers. Cassie eventually exacts her revenge by leading Lillian Jean into the woods, where she drops her books on the ground and starts beating her. Cassie forces Lillian Jean to apologize for all the humiliation she inflicted on her, then threatens to reveal all of Lillian Jean's secrets if she tells anyone what happened.
T.J. is caught cheating again and fails for another year. He tells Mr. Wallace about the Logans' organized boycott of his store and how Mrs. Logan does not teach from the county-issued textbooks because she believes they contain biased information. Mr. Granger, Mr. Wallace, and a school board member fire Mrs. Logan on charges of teaching "unapproved things". Stacey blames T.J., who denies it was his fault. As his black friends begin to shun him over this, T.J. turns to hanging out with Jeremy Simms' older brothers Melvin and R.W., who manipulate T.J. and mock him behind his back.
Papa, Mr. Morrison and Stacey go to Vicksburg; on their way back, they find one of the wagon wheels has been tampered with. As Papa fixes it, they are ambushed by the Wallaces. They attempt to shoot Papa with a bullet that grazes his temple. However, this startles the horse into running off, causing the wagon to fall and crush Papa's leg. Mr. Morrison attacks the Wallaces, snapping Dewberry Wallace's back. Later, Mr. Granger uses his banking influence to make the Logan's mortgage note due for full payment within a week even though the Logans had four more years to pay it. Uncle Hammer sells his car and other items, leaving the Logans able to pay the mortgage.
On the last night of church revival meetings in August, T.J. appears dressed up in gangster-like clothes with R.W. and Melvin in order to show his former friends he is better off without them. R.W. and Melvin take T.J. to get the pearl handled pistol at the Barnett store. The store is closed, but R.W. and Melvin convince T.J. to steal the gun while they rob the cash box. The Barnetts catch what appear to be three black burglars, as Melvin and R.W. are wearing stocking masks over their faces. R.W. hits Mr. Barnett with the flat end of an ax and slaps Mrs. Barnett, causing her to hit the back of her head on a stove and black out. They beat up T.J. when he threatens to reveal what happened. T.J. flees to the Logans. Stacey takes T.J. home before T.J.'s father finds him missing and kicks him out. The Simms and Wallaces attack the Avery's home, capture T.J. and are about to lynch him when Mr. Jamison and the town sheriff arrived. The Wallaces propose taking T.J. to the Logan's land and killing him and Papa and Mr. Morrison. The Logan children flee home where they are found to have been missing and reveal what happened. Papa and Mr. Morrison leave. Mama and Big Ma realize that there is a fire outside that may consume their land. The fire stops the lynching by causing the Simms, Wallaces and Logans to work together to extinguish it.
Mrs. Barnett survives the burglary, but Mr. Barnett dies. The sheriff arrests T.J. and Cassie realizes that Papa set the fire to save T.J. Stacey asks what T.J.'s fate will be. Papa replies that he will be convicted of Mr. Barnett's murder and may be executed. Cassie, overwhelmed by the news, silently goes to bed. Although Cassie never liked T.J., she cries for him and the land.Characters
- Cassie Logan: The narrator and protagonist. Cassie is 9 years old. She has a fiery temper, is brave, and is also very naive about racism, but sometimes she can be just like the boys. She is very brave and strong for herself. She's strong-willed, and will speak her mind in just about any situation.
- Stacey Logan: A 12-year-old boy who is slowly progressing into manhood. He is protective over his siblings and understands racism. He is the oldest child of the family and is friends with T. J. but questions it sometimes. In the end, Stacey realizes how he was changing. While Papa is away, he feels like he's the man of the house and needs to keep his family safe.
- Christopher-John Logan: A plump, cheerful 7 year-old, Christopher-John is the third-oldest of the children. He is timid and easygoing. Christopher John doesn't really stand out in the crowd, so he is very different from his other siblings.
- Little Man (Clayton Chester Logan): A meticulously neat 6 year-old first-grader, Little Man is the youngest of the Logan children. He also doesn't understand why blacks get treated so badly and does not understand why blacks and whites are different. All that he knows is that he does not like it at all.
- Papa (David Paul Logan): The father of the Logan children. He values his independence highly, leaving for months at a time to work on the railroad in order not to lose ownership of Logan land.
- Uncle Hammer: The uncle of the Logan children. He does not like racism and cannot deal with it wisely. He has enough money to buy nice clothes and even an expensive car. He sells his car later in the book so the family could keep the land.
- Mama (Mary Logan): The mother of four children, Stacey, Cassie, Christopher-John, and Little Man. She teaches seventh grade at Great Faith Elementary, a class that gets smaller every year when her older students leave school to work on their families' sharecropper lands, and is eventually fired when T.J. tells on her pasting over the books' covers' racist front cover charts and about their leading of the boycott of the Wallace's.
- Big Ma (Caroline) The mother of Papa and Uncle Hammer. The loving grandmother of Cassie, Stacey, Little Man, and Christopher John. She is also the main caretaker of the house.
- Jeremy Simms: A white boy whose family is racist, Jeremy doesn't like or share his family's beliefs, and tries to be friends with Stacey and the others. For Christmas, Jeremy visits Stacey and gives him a flute and Mama some nuts. He lives in a tree house in an attempt to be away from his family, whom he detests. No matter how many times the Logan family shuns him, he never stops trying to be their friend, like a stray dog who follows them. Papa doesn't want him to be the Logan children's friend because he is afraid that Jeremy will grow up to be like the rest of his family.
- Lillian Jean Simms: The older sister of Jeremy but younger than R.W. and Melvin Simms. Lillian Jean humiliates Cassie in Strawberry by shoving her in the road, and, later on in the novel, Cassie takes revenge by pretending to be her friend for several weeks and learning all her secrets that her friends tell her. After a month, Cassie brings her into the woods and drops her books, beats her up and then blackmails her into apologizing for what happened in Strawberry by threatening to tell that she told her and her friends' secrets to a black child and had been beaten up by a nine-year-old black child.
- Melvin and R.W. Simms: Jeremy and Lillian Jean Simms' older, racist brothers who use T.J. for their own wants and get him in trouble for burglary and the murder of Jim Lee Barnett.
- Charlie Simms: The father of Lillian Jean, Jeremy, Melvin and R.W. Simms. He is a member of the night men. He is a highly respected white man, but is very racist and does not like black people and immigrants. Charlie grabs Cassie and pushes her off the sidewalk in Strawberry because she accidentally bumped into Lillian Jean and will not apologize "properly".
School (teachers, principal, etc.)
- Miss Daisy Crocker: Black teacher at Great Faith Elementary School, calling very poor books "new" and "wonderful" and has no reaction to the chart in the student's books referring to the books' condition as "Very Poor" and Cassie's race and gender in Latin as "Nigra". Little Man's Latin race and gender almost perfectly fit the well known racial slur.
- Mr. Wellever: Principal of the Great Faith Elementary School, but is powerless when Granger and the Wallaces fire Mama from working there.
- Gracey Pearson, Alma Scott and Mary Lou Wellever: Three girls who don't want Cassie to sit next to them, Mary Lou is the daughter of the principal and the only one who wore a new dress the day school started.
- Mr. L.T. Morrison: A tall, well-built man Papa took into the Logan family since he had lost his job, who slowly becomes accepted as a member of the Logan family. Long ago, his parents had been killed by night riders, on Christmas, and he will always remember this day. He is a protective and caring person.
- Harlan Filmore Granger: Son of Filmore Granger. He wants the Logans' land because it was originally owned by the Granger family and the Logans bought it from them.
- T.J.: 14-year-old boy who is a friend of Stacey's until he tells the Wallaces that Mama is teaching "inappropriate" things, which causes her to get fired and him to lose the respect of everyone he knows. He is arrogant and naughty, always trying to cheat on tests and look good. He becomes friends with Melvin and R.W. Simms who treated him nicely but laugh at him behind his back. He later discovers that they were just using him when it was too late, and went to jail while the Simms went free.
- The Wallace brothers: (Kaleb, Dewberry, and Thurston) Run a store on Harlan Granger's land. They are white, racist and violent. They are responsible for the Berry's burning.
- Mr.Jamison: A white lawyer who backs Mary Logan's boycott. He is against racism and is a kind man who kept the Wallaces from hanging T.J. and opposes Harlan Granger.
The book was made into a same-named made-for-TV film in 1978, starring Morgan Freeman in an earlier role ("Uncle Hammer") and used music composed by Fred Karlin.References
- ^ Newbery Medal Winners from 1922 to Present
- ^ Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry on IMDb
- School Library Journal
- Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry at SparkNotes
|Preceded by The Grey King||Newbery Medal recipient 1977||Succeeded by Bridge to Terabithia|