1977 Newbery Medal
1977 National Book Award Finalist for Children’s Literature
“Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry” takes place in the Jim Crow South in the 1930s. The Logan family owns 400 acres of land in Mississippi, at a time when it was very unusual for blacks to own land in the South. The family grows cotton on their land. Cassie, a nine-year-old, tells the story of the year she and her younger brothers learned what it means to be “separate but equal.”
Cassie lives in a small house with her grandmother, mother, older brother and two younger brothers. Her father lives with them when he can. When he doesn’t live with them, he’s working for the railroad supplementing the family income. Cassie’s uncle visits a couple of times in the course of the year.
The year starts out with the beginning of school. White kids begin school a month earlier, before cotton season is over, but the black kids are expected to pick cotton until the season is over. The white kids are bused to their school, the black kids have to walk an hour to their school. On the first day of school Cassie’s youngest brother becomes terribly upset when he realizes that the textbook he has been given is old and dirty because it was used by white kids for several years before being passed on to the black kids. This is the beginning of the kids’ realization that they are not viewed as equal to their white counterparts.
During the year, which includes a great deal of love within the Logan family, Cassie learns that she is expected to do what white kids tell her to do, no matter how demeaning. She learns about the night riders who come by car to the houses of blacks deemed too uppity and seriously injure or kill them.
Cassie also watches as her family tries to organize sharecropper families to stop using the landowner’s store.
By the end of the year, Cassie understands the social structure of the Jim Crow South. It’s a very painful loss of innocence.
This is a powerful book. The story moves slowly in some places and very quickly in others. It’s still being used today in English classes. It’s beautifully written, and it reminded me of why I love to read.