Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
This sequel to Song of the Trees
won the 1977 John Newbery Medal. Set in Mississippi in
the 1930's, it is a gentle yet moving depiction of one black family's struggle to live in peace,
dignity, and freedom--on their own land--in an era when sharecroppers were kept in such fear and
poverty by white landowners that they were scarcely better than slaves.
Fourth-grader Cassie Logan tells the story of a year in her life: a year when hoodlums burnt
three black men alive on suspicion of looking crossways at a white woman; a year when a greedy
white landowner sets his sights on the Logan family's land; a year when an attempt to boycott a
store run by bad people leads to every kind of threat, financial chicanery, and attempts of
In that year, Cassie's older brother Stacey makes strides toward manhood, the most difficult
ones having to do with his troubled friend T. J. In that year, Mama and Big Ma worry themselves
to the bone that Papa (who has to work for the railroad to make ends meet) and Uncle Hammer (who
works up north) will do something proud and foolish that could get them killed. In that year,
Cassie suffers a terrible humiliation and exacts a bittersweet revenge; a huge, quiet stranger
comes to stay on their farm; and stormclouds of tragedy gather with relentless suspense,
climaxing in a night of violence, terror, and flames that will change Cassie's world for keeps.
This story could have been told in an angry and shrill tone, and it wouldn't have been half as
powerful. Instead, its quiet, crystal-clear language, its modest imitation of Southern U.S.
speech patterns, and its steady but unforced march toward its remarkable conclusion, give it a
staggering impact. Whether you are white, black, or purple with yellow spots, you should read
this book to understand a shameful system from which our country only recently emerged, and for
which it has yet to fully atone. Read it to enjoy a gripping story, but also read it to learn
the lessons Cassie's family teaches her. I quote, in brief:
"White is something just like black is something. Everybody born on this earth is something and
nobody, no matter what color, is better than anybody else."
And, a little later on:
"Baby, we have no choice of what color we're born or who our parents are or whether we're rich
or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we're here... And I
pray to God you'll make the best of yours."
Recommended Age: 12+
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