‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ by Mildred D.
Taylor. This book is full of details that indicate the racism that the black citizens had to endure. The novel describes the process in which Cassie Logan, the narrator, learns about the realities of racism in Spokane County, Mississippi.
In the presidential elections of 1860, the Republican Party led by Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant had campaigned against the expansion of slavery beyond the states in which it already existed.The Republican victory in that election resulted in seven southern states declaring their secession from the Union, becoming the Confederacy, or CSA (Confederate States of America) led by Jefferson Davis and Robert E.
Lee. Confederate forces attacked US on April 12 1861 bringing the American Civil War. Although parts of South America were in favour of black slavery, Lincoln won the Civil War and made slavery illegal. However, southerners weren’t pleased and although they didn’t practise slavery anymore, they became racist and hostile towards black people. The white thought of themselves as superior to the blacks and treated them accordingly.The governments grief for losing the Civil War is shown in the Mississippi state flag which carries stars and bars in the upper right left hand corner symbolizing regret that the Civil War was lost and that slavery was made illegal. The government of Mississippi was at least partially racist.
This fact is underlined in the book by the poor quality of education for black schools compared with the quality of education for white schools. The Jefferson Davis County School for whites and the Great Faith Elementary School for blacks had many great differences, the white school being of better standard.As Cassie describes, the Jefferson Davis County School was ‘a long white wooden building looming in the distance. Behind the building was a wide sports field around which were scattered rows of tiered gray-looking benches. In front of it were two yellow buses ..
. ‘. The Great Faith Elementary School, which was ‘one of the largest black schools in the county’, however, had no school bus at all, and again, as Cassie describes that the school consisted ‘of four weather beaten wooden houses on stilts of brick’. The school for white children was far bigger, than the black school, and had its own school bus.The black children had to walk to school and as the incident occurs with Little Man, on the first day of school, they were spewed with ‘clouds of red dust like a huge yellow dragon breathing fire’ by the white children’s bus driver ‘while laughing white faces pressed against the bus window’. In addition, as indicated in the book, the black school was such a small building that there were two to three classes in one room, separated by a curtain. The resources given to both black and white schools differed in both number and standard.
The resources for black schools were few.For example, they didn’t have ‘desks, paper, blackboards, erasers, maps’ and ‘chalk’, which are basic essentials for teaching a class. Also, the books that the black cuildren were given ‘were badly worn’ and ‘the gray edges of the pages had been marred by pencils, crayons, and ink’. The condition of the books given was ‘very poor’. On the inside cover of all the books was a page with the condition of the book and the race of the child it was given to. When it was ‘new’, it was given to a white child. When it was ‘excellent’, it was given to a white child.
When it went down to ‘average’ and then ‘poor’, it was still given to a white child.However, when it became ‘very poor’, it was given to a black child, or a ‘nigra’ as ‘The Board Of Education’ had printed. In other words, when the white children had finished with the books and the condition had become very bad, they would hand them over to the black children. A lot of a black teachers and students learned to accept this inequality, and learned to believe that they were inferior to white people. For example, when Cassie points out that they were called the racist term ‘nigra’, her teacher, Miss Crocker, responds by saying, ‘That’s what you are’.Also, when Mary Logan began pasting the insulting page with paper, Miss Crocker had said, very sincerely, ‘Biting the hand that feeds you.
That’s what your doing, Mary Logan, biting the hand that feeds you’. Another problem in black schools was the lack of teachers. Not enough people got a good, full education to go onto teach, as Cassie tells the reader that the school had ‘320 students, 7 teachers, a principal, a caretaker, and the caretaker’s cow’.
Although the majority of South America had a racist attitude towards black people, not every white person was like that.There were some who saw sense and treated white and black people alike. There were some who knew that it didn’t matter what colour you were, because we’re all equal. An example of this would be Mr. Jamison. As Cassie explains, ‘I liked Mr. Jamison and I didn’t mind admitting it.
He came to see us several times a year, mainly on business, and although the boys and I were somewhat shy of him, we were always glad to see him. He was the only white man I had ever heard address Mama and Big Ma as ‘Missus’ and I liked him for it. ‘ Another boy in the story who is unlike the majority of white people is Jeremy.He brought Stacey Logan Christmas presents, although Cassie described him as a ‘strange boy’. He always used to meet the Logan children on their way to school and ‘was often ridiculed by the other children at school and had shown up more than once with wide red welts on his arms which Lillian Jean, his older sister, had revealed with satisfaction were the result of his associating with us. Still Jeremy continued to meet us’. Associating with white people is a risk for black people, because if they ever did ‘step out of their line’ they could be in very serious trouble.For example, when Sam Tatum, who was black, had called Mr.
Barnett, who was white, a liar, he was ‘tarred and feathered’. At the time, some white people lived to find fault and punish black people for the slightest of misunderstanding. One group who are known, in the book, for killing black people are the ‘Night Men’.
They hunted down black people who had stepped ‘out of their line’ and lynch or kill them. Another case in the book was of John Henry Berry. He was accused of supposedly flirting with a white woman. For this accusation, his house was set on fire.Some black people lived in fear of white people allowing themselves to be degraded. However, the Logan family believed in their rights and although they couldn’t do much, they did what they could. When Miss Crocker says, ‘They’ve got to learn how things are sometimes’ to Mary Logan, she responds by saying, ‘Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean they have to accept them .
.. and maybe we don’t neither’.
Black people were made to speak with a level of respect to white people. Whether they were of a high-class family or a low-class family, if they were white, you had to address them as ‘Mr. or ‘Mrs. ‘ Etc. For example, Mr. Simms makes Cassie apologize to his daughter, Lillian Jean, for something that she didn’t do, addressing her as ‘Miz Lillian Jean’ although she was only one or two years older than Cassie and had never addressed Cassie as such.What had hurt Cassie the most in the incident with Lillian Jean, was that Big Ma had made Cassie apologize when she refused to. But again, Big Ma hadn’t made Cassie apologize because she believed that Cassie had done something wrong.
She made Cassie apologize because she wanted to protect Cassie and she was scared of how Mr. Simms would react if she hadn’t apologized. As Mary Logan explains to Cassie why she had to apologize, she says, ‘White people may demand our respect, but what we give to them is not respect but fear. What we give to our own people is far more important because it’s given freely.
Now you may have to call Lillian Jean ‘Miss’ because the white people say so, but you’ll also call our young ladies at church ‘Miss’ because you really do respect them’. The majority of people in Mississippi had racist attitudes towards black people in the 1930’s.They would separate black and white people wherever they could. They would come to white peoples needs first, no matter how urgently the black person needed assistance. In shops, white people would be served first. In Mr. Barnett’s store, for the first time Cassie had an incident about being unjustly served because of her colour. Cassie, TJ and Stacey are waiting for a long time to be served and every time a white person comes, they are forgotten, and Mr.
Barnett serves the whites.Cassie points out that they were waiting for a long time, but instead of apologizing Mr. Barnett says, ‘Well you just get your little black self over there and wait some more’. He also calls Cassie a ‘nigger’. People had no respect for black people and treated them likewise. Many white people had stores like Mr. Barnett, or they had little stalls in the market like in Strawberry.
However, some white people made a good deal of money from black people who sharecropped on their land. For example, some people sharecropped on Harlan Granger’s land while other black people sharecropped on Montier or Harrison land. The majority of black people were sharecroppers and not many possessed their own land.But the Logan family had their own land, which was highly unusual for a black family. They had worked hard on the land and as Big Ma explains to Cassie that ‘We worked real hard gettin’ them crops sown, gettin’ ’em reaped. We had us a time . . .
But there was good times too. We was young and strong and we liked to work. Neither one of us, I’m proud to say, never was lazy and we didn’t raise no lazy children neither’. In the family, every single person would work together towards earning a living. Everybody would to do their little bit, or whatever they are capable of, to get the job done.
As Cassie describes how they work together in her family, starting with her father, she says, ‘For it (the land) he would work long hot summers pounding steel; Mama would teach and run the farm; Big Ma, in her 60’s would work like a woman of 20 in the fields and keep the house; and the boys and I would wear thread bare clothing washed to dishwater colour; but always the tax and mortgage would be paid’. Black and white people can and should work together, but they are more likely to work together in a state of emergency when their material resources are endangered.For example, only when Mr. Logan started the fire, did both black and white people work along side each other to save their fields. Only through working together can you achieve. The final messages of the book, for me, would be two.
One message would be that survival is possible but there are inevitable losses along the way. The other message of the book, which to me is the most important of the two, would be what Mary Logan teaches her daughter, she says, ‘Baby, we have no choice of what colour we’re born or who our parents are or whether we are rich or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we’re here’.