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Tara Lake
Atlanta, GA
Posted March 7, 2014
www.TaraLake.com
A Justification for Classroom Use of Taylors Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Published in 1976, Mildred D. Taylors Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, has been a staple in many
American classrooms, and enjoyed a strong popularity in the 1980s. During this time, however, and
especially in recent years, there has also been backlash from parents and educators who are concerned
about texts content. From these concerns have arisen attempts to have the book banned for its frank
depiction of racist violence and language along social issues prevalent in the Jim Crow south and
plaguing African Americans in the Jim Crow era. While this trend is part and parcel of a wave of
political (or social) correctness and historical muting that has become more prevalent in education and
parenting circles, it also represents a very real reluctance and lack of preparedness for educators who have
not acquired the background or training to teach such a text. However, this is a poor reason to attempt to
have this text and others like it removed from the classroom. Mildred D. Taylors work demonstrates
an extraordinary potential to teach young readers about history, our economic system, and the importance
of family and loyalty. Further, the text is an excellent teaching tool for particular concepts and a
wonderful resource for helping children to deal with difficulties and important lessons in their own lives
and communities, including poverty; the importance of land, ownership and labor; the concepts
surrounding Americas racial history; and the continuing occurrences of hate crimes and racial violence in
many cities and towns.
Cassie Logan, the eleven-year-old protagonist of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, lives a relatively
sheltered and privileged life as a member of the African American community in Spokane County,
Mississippi. Her paternal grandfather acquired 400 acres to leave to the family, and since his death,
Cassies grandmother, father, uncle, and mother have worked to ensure that it stays in the family. But
this is not the case for many of their neighbors. Like the families of many children today, these
hardworking community members are not able to become homeowners (landowners). Further, they work

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in a system that prevents them from building wealth. Yet Cassie and her siblings, Stacey (12),
Christopher-John (7), and Little Man (5), are thoughtful friends across the barriers of class, following
closely the example of their parents. Their friends T.J., Claude, and Little Willie live in poverty, but the
children share close friendship with them, and the Logan family shares their Christmas table with T.J.s
and Claudes family, the Averys. In a time when bullying has become a major issue in schools, and when
materialism is often at the root of this issue, Cassie and her family provide powerful examples for
students.
Racist violence is a harsh reality to face. Today, even as these issues arise in the post-Civil
Rights era United States, the public continues to struggle with addressing racist violence, hate crimes, and
the impacts upon the vulnerable. This not only includes examples occurring in neighborhoods in the state
of Mississippi, where African American men and children have been run off the road or killed by drivers
between 2010 and 2013 in what appears to be a macabre sport among some local white youth. Nor is it
limited to the vigilante style executions and shootings in which black youth Trayvon Martin, Renisha
McBride, and Jordan Davis, for example have been killed by singular men for little reason. They also
include the increase in homophobic and transphobic killings in communities across the country, which
have disproportionately impacted queer people of color.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry provides an age-appropriate avenue for addressing these very
difficult topics, and todays tragedies can be employed to help children across background to understand
the current connections to these types of issues. Further, readers can learn about interpersonal racism and
institutional racism, both of which the Logan children must contend with every day. Cassie and her
siblings visit a man who has been torched in a racist attack, and learn of his son who has been burned to
death. There is a tarring and feathering in the town. The children witness a lynch mob dragging their
friend T.J. out of his home to be killed. Further, they spend their mornings running from a white school
bus driver who delights in tormenting them, spraying dust and mud on their clean school clothes.
But they also learn about systemic and structural racism that prevents families from accessing cash or
leaving the corrupted sharecropping system. They are taught that they dont have a bus because the

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whites county leaders, who relentlessly collect taxes from African Americans, do not provide services for
black families, such as busing. As Cassie and her brothers begin the school year, they receive books for
the first time in the history of the school the black community has established for its children and supports
with its own money. The books, the only service the school has received from the county, are battered,
over a decade old, and provided only after they have been discarded from white schools. Mary Logan,
the childrens mother, is fired when she is reported by T.J., the childrens disgruntled chum, for teaching
history in an equitable manner and including African American history in her curriculum. Of course, the
deeper reason for this dismissal, by the white leaders of the county who provide little support (outside of
the ragged books) to the school, is that the Logan family is heading a boycott in protests of the leaders of
a murderous set of brothers who also own the local store.
As a bonus, this text provides an important overview and understanding of the history of race and
slavery in the United States lessons that children are often denied in school settings. Marys (Mamas)
lessons couch racism in the south at its actual root, the economic structure, and help children to
understand the role of low cost labor during slavery and in the Jim Crow south. In an age-appropriate
way, Taylors text provides a more sophisticated understanding of this history that is easily digestible but
moves well beyond the simplistic, watered down theories children often receive about blacks being
treated badly just because of the color of their skin, and the like. Further, Papas (Davids) lessons
about the importance of holding onto the land, and the structures that threaten African Americans ability
to retain land during the Jim Crow era, are extremely important. Children learn about the role of taxes
and mortgages and get a sense of the destabilizing impacts of banks that deal unfairly with African
Americans. These lessons also work well for children in fourth through seventh grade. Older students,
however, will gain a great deal by reading this text while also viewing the PBS documentary Banished,
which documents the use of racist terrorism to run blacks off of the lands they owned in various parts of
the south. College students or advanced high school students might also consider the unscrupulous
lending practices, from companies such as Washington Mutual, which targeted African American

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communities and NPR documentaries or investigative news packages on this topic would be great
additions for teaching the text.
Finally, of course, the issue of interracial friendship and cooperation, and the boundaries that
often prevented it in the Jim Crow era, are painfully illustrated by the familys relationships to the whites
in their lives. For example, Stacey has a loyal white friend, Jeremy Simms, who detests the racism he
witnesses in his own family and takes the personal risk of being ostracized and physically punished by his
family members in order to extend his friendship and enjoy the company of the Logan family. Papa
explains, reluctantly, that Stacey must learn that friendships between blacks and whites are often poisoned
by a lack of equality fostered in society. A harmless girls rivalry between Cassie and Lillian Jean is
mutated by local racist custom, and Cassie must learn hard lessons about the racial order. Mr. Jamison,
the familys lawyer, is a white man caught between his communitys views and his own progressive
thinking, and faces great risk when he supports the Logans boycott and prevents a lynch mob from
killing T.J. without trial.
While these are certainly potent lessons, Taylor delivers them meaningfully and with care.
Because Cassie and her brothers are largely sheltered from the difficulties that impact their communities,
young readers are well cocooned also. When young readers face difficult moments, young Cassie as
protagonist provides a safe guide, and protective presences such as the Mr. Morrison character provide a
greater sense of security. In addition, the children are surrounded by love and care, along with an
extremely supportive family and community. On a daily basis, their most pressing problems are the type
that populate many childrens lives completing their chores, avoiding loving chastisement, facing
another year of school and exams, facing peer pressure from their siblings and friends, and contending
with a bully in their communities. The story, despite all it holds, is warm and a great deal of fun, and
teachers of literature, social studies, and economics or financial concepts will find that children enjoy
learning with their likely friends Cassie, Stacey, Christopher-John and Little Man.

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Tara Lake
Atlanta, GA
Posted March 7, 2014
www.TaraLake.com

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