Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
This book has been reviewed by Thriving Family, a marriage and parenting magazine published by Focus on the Family and is the first in a series about the Logan family.
Crude or Profane Language
Drug and Alcohol Content
Other Negative Elements
It is the 1930s. Cassie Logan lives in Mississippi on Big Ma’s farm with Big Ma (her grandmother), her parents, younger brothers Christopher-John and Little Man, and older brother, Stacey. Few black people own their own land, so the Logans are both proud of their property and cautious in their efforts to keep it safe from scheming land baron Harlan Granger. Papa is frequently away from home because of his job on the railroad, and Mama teaches at the kids’ school. Stacey’s boisterous, trouble-making friend, T.J. Avery, hangs around frequently.
As the story begins, T.J. is telling the Logan kids about some local white men who lit members of a black family on fire. The kids are taking their long walk to school, and as always, the white kids’ bus driver purposely splashes them while driving by. A white boy named Jeremy Simms meets them on the road. He frequently walks with them, even though he sometimes takes a beating from his father for associating with them.
Jeremy and his bossy sister, Lillian Jean, then enter their white school while the Logan kids go to theirs. The children in Cassie’s class are excited that they will be receiving books of their own for the first time. Their excitement fades, however, when they learn these are the ratty, cast-off books from the white school. The teacher punishes Cassie and Little Man for not acting grateful for the books.
Papa makes a brief trip home, bringing a man named Mr. Morrison to work the farm and protect the family. He also warns the kids about visiting the Wallace Store in the nearby town. He’s heard some kids go there after school to dance and buy bootleg liquor and cigarettes.
Tired of being splashed by the white kids’ bus, the Logan children dig a pit in the road and set a trap. The bus gets stuck and is out of commission for weeks. The kids fear being caught but revel in their victory.
The Logan adults try to conceal their fears, but Cassie knows they’re concerned about a group of white men who frequently ride around at night causing trouble for black people. Big Ma tells Cassie about their family history and how they came to own this land that once belonged to Granger. Big Ma hires a white lawyer named Jamison to transfer the deed to Papa and his brother, Hammer, to make sure the property remains in the family.
Stacey follows T.J. to the Wallace Store to confront him about cheating in class. The other Logan kids go along, despite Papa’s warning. They later admit what they’ve done. Mama takes them to visit the Barry family, where they see the horrible injuries sustained by one of the men who was set on fire. As they leave, she tells them the Wallaces were the ones who doused Barry and his nephews with kerosene and lit the match.
Mama begins a crusade to convince neighbors to boycott the Wallace Store and to shop in a town farther away called Vicksburg. Some agree to help. Others can’t get a line of credit in Vicksburg, so Mama and Papa try to find ways to get them the necessary approvals. This puts Cassie’s parents in a perilous position with the Wallaces and other local white people.
On Cassie’s first trip to town, a shop owner treats her rudely because of her color. Immediately afterward, she accidentally runs into Lillian Jean Simms. The girl demands Cassie apologize and treats her like trash. Lillian’s father appears and demands an apology for his daughter.
When Big Ma arrives at the scene, she makes the angry Cassie say she’s sorry. Back at the farm, Uncle Hammer has arrived for a visit. When he hears what happened to Cassie, he leaves in anger to see Mr. Simms. Mr. Morrison stops Hammer and keeps him from doing something rash. During incidents like these, the adults in Cassie’s life try to teach her when to hold her tongue and when to fight back against prejudice.
As Mama and Papa recruit more people for their boycott, Granger, the Wallaces and others begin to make threats against the Logans and their land rights. The Logans know their only hope for saving the farm is to have a good cotton crop. Mama gets fired for teaching the truth about black history in her classroom, and Papa is attacked and injured on a trip to Vicksburg.
T.J. starts spending time with Jeremy and Lillian Jean’s older brothers, unaware they are only pretending to be his friends. One night, an injured T.J. sneaks into Stacey’s room, begging for help. He was with the Simms boys when they broke into a store to steal a gun. The storekeeper and his wife woke and caught them. The Simms boys knocked them out and fled before learning if they were dead or alive. T.J. insisted the Simms boys take him home or he’d tell everyone what they’d done. They respond by beating T.J. T.J. begs Stacey to help him get home, since he fears the Simms boys may still be waiting to attack him. Stacey and the other Logan kids take him home, but Wallace and the Simms boys break windows and drag T.J. and his family from their house.
Since T.J. still has the stolen gun in his possession, they decide he is guilty. They beat him on the scene and prepare to hang him. Stacey tells Cassie to run home to get Papa. Shortly after Papa has run from the house, Cassie realizes their cotton field is on fire. She later learns Papa purposely set the fire to distract the men. They forget about lynching T.J. and work together to put out the blaze.
The shopkeeper dies the next day, and T.J. is arrested for murder. The Logans mourn for T.J. and for their land.
Cassie’s teacher urges the children to work and share like good little Christian boys and girls. The children are excited to have books of their own, since most have never touched any book but a family Bible. Mama says she prays to God that her kids will make the best of their lives.
Telling a story about his parents battling violent white people, Mr. Morrison says they fought the demons out of hell like avenging angels of the Lord. Cassie’s family attends church. Cassie says she knows the Bible says she’s supposed to forgive the misdeeds of the whites against their family and turn the other cheek. Her father says the Bible doesn’t mean you have to be a fool. He says maybe one day he can forgive, but he won’t forget.
The community revival lasts a week, and everyone looks forward to it. They dress up for the services and eat potluck suppers in the back of their wagons. When T.J. is being beaten, his mother cries out to Jesus and asks the Lord to kill her instead. Big Ma falls on her knees and prays a powerful prayer when the family is in danger.
Other Belief Systems
Mama tells the kids how some white people said slavery was good for blacks because it taught them to be good Christians. She notes whites didn’t really teach Christianity to save the black peoples’ souls; they did it to make them obey.
The phrases “what the devil” and “my Lord” appear a few times, and the n-word appears a number of times. White storeowners pour kerosene on a black man and two of his nephews and light them on fire. Jeremy Simms’ father sometimes beats him for spending time with the Logan kids. The Simms boys beat T.J. when he threatens to expose their violence against the storekeeper. White men drag the Avery family from their home and beat T.J. while threatening to hang him.
When Papa comes home, he swings Mama around and kisses her. Mr. Morrison tells a story about some white men attacking black men who were accused of molesting a white woman.
Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at ThrivingFamily.com/discuss-books.
Alcohol: The Wallaces give illegal liquor to young black children and add the cost of the alcohol to the parents’ tabs without their knowledge.
Racism: The Logans and the black people in their area experience racial prejudice every day. White people call blacks the n-word and prowl around at night to harm people and property. Mama loses her job as a teacher because she tells her students the truth about black history. A white girl named Lillian Jean orders Cassie around, and the girl’s parents tell Cassie to obey. The Logans have to walk an hour to school because busses are only available to white children. Black sharecroppers are cheated out of their money and remain in debt. Papa warns Stacey not to hang out with or have much to do with white people, because they mean trouble for blacks.
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Readability Age Range
8 to 12
MIldred D. Taylor
Dial Books, a member of Penguin Group, USA
Newbery Medal, 1977; National Book Award Finalist, 1977; and others