02/28/01
Mildred Taylor's "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry"
    by Fiona Barnes (reader)

That's Cassie Logan, played by Lark Ruffin in the 1978 film version of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, telling us about her family and their struggles. The setting of Ms. Taylor's novel, which won the prestigious Newbery Medal in 1977, is rural Mississippi during the 1930s. The Logans are fighting to save their land, their dignity as human beings, and, ultimately, their lives -- from the powerful forces of racial and economic oppression. But even the economics of rural poverty would be bearable for the hard-working Logans were it not for the bigotry that they face with almost daily regularity.

What makes the events of the novel especially powerful is that we experience them from the point of view of Cassie, who is trying to understand the soul-sickening realities of racism. The book begins, in fact, with Cassie and her three brothers walking along a dusty road on the first day of a new school year and listening with growing fear to a friend as he describes the "burning" of a black family the night before. Shocking as this may seem, there are few more compelling or important passages in our literature for young people about the racial divide.

But Ms. Taylor wanted to do more than express the problem , as she writes in a new introduction to the anniversary edition of her novel. She "envisioned presenting a family united in love and self-respect, and parents, strong and sensitive, attempting to guide their children successfully without harming their spirits, through the hazardous maze of living in a discriminatory society." She goes on: "I wanted readers to know this family, based upon my own, and I wanted them to feel akin to them and to walk in their shoes."

And she has, and they're covered with that "rusty Mississippi dust," and with glory.

Copyright 2001 by John Cech

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