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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry


by Mildred D. Taylor

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Chapter 1 Summary

  • Our narrator (Cassie) and her three brothers (Little Man, Stacey and Christopher-John) are walking to school on the first day of school for the year.
  • What, did they run out of names by the time they got to Little Man?
  • Stacey and Cassie are not happy to be returning to school. Stacey is especially unhappy that he's going to be in his mother's class this year.
  • Time for some exposition: We learn that, long ago, Cassie's grandfather had purchased 400 acres of land from the white Granger family.
  • This land is valuable and productive, and the family makes some extra money by farming cotton.
  • But: one 200-acre plot has been mortgaged, and there are taxes on the other 200 acres. The family is having some trouble paying the debts, because cotton prices are low (thanks, Great Depression).
  • To make extra money Cassie's father had "gone to work on the railroad" (1.15).
  • Presumably, all the livelong day.
  • Papa has emphasized that doing this work and making sacrifices (like not having new clothes) is important, so that the Logan family can keep their land.
  • The Logan kids meet up with T.J. Avery and his little brother, Claude. They're really poor (you can tell by their lack of shoes and how skinny they are), and we find out that they sharecrop on Logan land.
  • T.J. hints around to Stacey that he might work the whole Mom-as-teacher angle and find out in advance what will be on tests.
  • After Stacey shuts down this plan (good job, Stacey!), T.J. reveals that there has been a "burning" the previous night (1.27).
  • Ooh, this doesn't sound good at all.
  • And it's not. Mr. Berry and his two nephews (a family that lives nearby) were burned almost to death by some white men.
  • Cassie makes it clear she doesn't like T.J. very much. Oh, and neither does Little Man. Or Christopher-John, for that matter.
  • It soon becomes clear why: T.J. recounts an incident where he almost got in trouble for going to a "dancing room" at a local store.
  • To save himself from getting in trouble, T.J. told his mother that the only reason he was at the store was because Claude had snuck off to get some candy.
  • Claude was beaten for this, which T.J. thinks is pretty funny.
  • Suddenly, Stacey yells at everyone to get off the road (1.64). Wait—what's going on?
  • The kids all climb up the bank alongside the road and head into the forest.
  • A bus full of white children comes flying down the road, sending clouds of red dust everywhere.
  • Little Man is angry that his clothes are now ruined from the red dust.
  • We find out that the African-American children don't have a school bus. Instead, they're stuck walking several miles to and from school each day.
  • Hm, sounds like that "separate but equal" thing isn't working out too well.
  • Here comes Jeremy. He's a white boy who risks being an outcast among the other white kids so he can hang out with Cassie and her brothers. He walks part of the way to school with them every day.
  • It's starting to look like the school Jeremy goes to is just for white children.
  • For some reason, Jeremy's school year starts earlier than the school Cassie and her brothers attend. This kind of doesn't make any sense.
  • Reader suspicions confirmed: We find out that the white children attend the Jefferson Davis County School, while the black children go somewhere else.
  • Jefferson Davis County School flies the Mississippi flag higher than the American flag (1.89).
  • Cassie and her friends go to the Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School—for black children.
  • And now the school-year issue that Jeremy raised starts to make more sense: most of the black children have to help their families by working in the cotton fields, so their school term starts later and gets out earlier (1.91).
  • Plus, some of the older kids work in the fields through November. Most of them end up dropping out of school altogether.
  • None of the kids that Cassie sees in the schoolyard have on new clothes, except for the principal's daughter, Mary Lou Wellever.
  • In fact, we find out that after the first day of school, the kids lucky enough to have shoes won't be wearing them again until it gets cold. These families really are that poor.
  • One friend of Stacey's, Moe Turner, has a three-and-a-half hour walk to school. One way.
  • Seriously, we would probably just give up at that point.
  • We find out that Cassie is in the fourth grade.
  • When she rushes into the classroom and tries to sit down, Gracey Pearson doesn't want to let her, because she's saving the seat for Mary Lou.
  • Guess some things are timeless—like mean girls.
  • Cassie sits there anyway. Good on you, Cassie!
  • First-graders and fourth-graders share the same classroom and the same teacher, although the grades are separated by a curtain that runs down the center of the room.
  • And you thought that today's educational cuts were bad.
  • We learn that the first grade teacher, Miss Davis, has been "held up in Jackson for a few days" (1.105).
  • Cassie gets in trouble for not responding with the rest of the group that she's willing to share teachers.
  • Miss Crocker has a big announcement: All of the students will have books this year.
  • Woohoo! Wait, what? Why is this news?
  • Most of the students have "never handled a book before" (1.119).
  • The quality of the books leaves a little something to be desired, since they're all worn out and damaged.
  • Little Man causes a disturbance by—gasp!—asking for a different book. His is dirty and has been marked up.
  • He ends up taking the book he was originally given, and Miss Crocker accuses him of putting on airs (basically, acting really snooty).
  • Little Man sees something on the inside book cover that he apparently doesn't like. Okay, so that's a bit of an understatement. He flings the book to the floor and starts stomping on it.
  • Miss Crocker threatens to whip Little Man.
  • Cassie checks it out and sees what has Little Man so upset.
  • It's a chart showing a year-by-year record of who the book had been checked out to and the book's condition. The condition progresses from "New," to "Excellent," to "Very Good," and then to "Good," and on down to "Average," "Poor," and finally "Very Poor" (1.Figure 1).
  • And the race of the student is also recorded. The book has been checked out to white children until the book's condition was graded "Very Poor," at which point the student's race became "nigra."
  • Brain snack: This and other racial slurs in the novel reflect the time in which the novel is set. It's how people really would have talked and thought. Plus, Taylor is trying to show the racial hatred that was widespread in the Depression-era South.
  • So this is what Little Man was reacting to.
  • We learn that Little Man can read (at age six) well enough to understand what is written in the book condition list.
  • Miss Crocker doesn't seem to care. She just tells Cassie, "That's what you are" (1.148).
  • And Little Man gets whipped.
  • When Cassie rejects her book, she is also whipped.
  • Cassie overhears Miss Crocker telling her (Cassie's) mother about how she and Little Man rejected the "perfectly good" books (1.156).
  • Cassie's mom seems quite unbothered that her children reacted in that way to the books. This doesn't make Miss Crocker happy.
  • Mrs. Logan glues plain brown paper over the offending checkout lists on the two books.
  • She tells Miss Crocker that maybe people shouldn't just accept the way things are.
  • Apparently, Mrs. Logan is considered a "radical" at the school.
  • She plans to do the same to all of the seventh-grade books.

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