Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
Minor Black Characters
Little Willie Wiggins
He's another seventh-grader at Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, and a friend to the Logans. He's not around a lot, so he's pretty much a non-player character.
Cassie finds out a couple of key pieces of information from him: that Stacey was falsely accused of cheating on Mrs. Logan's test and was whipped for it, and that T.J. spilled the beans about the Wallace store boycott. So, Little Willie is used to convey news to the Logan kids and propel the novel's plot.
He's one of Stacey's friends, and also a seventh-grader at Great Faith Elementary and Secondary school. His family is very poor, and they live on the far outskirts of the area, so he has a 3 ½ hour walk to school (yes—that is one way).
Moe's father is a poor sharecropper. Because the Turner family lives on land owned by Mr. Montier, the family has no choice but to shop at the Wallace store since he backs their credit there.
Mary Lou Wellever, Alma Scott and Gracey Pearson
Mean Girls: Depression Edition
These three are the tyrannical trio of Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School. And by that, we mean: mean girls. Even though they also attend the African-American school, they treat Cassie more like Lillian Jean Simms does. Taylor uses these characters to suggest that class differences and tensions exist even within each larger ethnic community.
Mary Lou Wellever is the group's queen bee, and as an added bonus is also the principal's daughter. They clearly have more money than the Logans do. When we first see Mary Lou, she "flounce[s] by in a new yellow dress" (1.92) even though very few of the other school children are wearing new duds.
Alma Scott and Gracey Pearson are her fawning toadies, and we don't really learn much about them. They do classy things like blocking Cassie from sitting in an empty desk because they're "saving it for Mary Lou" (1.97). Like Miss Priss Mary Lou, they don't like Cassie (and the feeling is mutual).
Mr. Wellever is the principal of Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School. He doesn't do anything to support Mrs. Logan when she is being berated by Harlan Granger and the school board members about her teaching methods (8.109). He also can't do anything about Mr. Granger's request to fire her. Like Miss Crocker, he doesn't want to bite the hand that feeds her.
She's Cassie's "yellow and buckeyed" (1.99) teacher, who walks "stiffly" (1.103) and smiles "mechanically" (1.105). In other words, she doesn't exactly give off a nurturing teacher vibe. On the first day of school, Miss Crocker speaks in patronizing platitudes, and appears a bit full of herself: "I'll have the pleasure of sprinkling your little minds with the first rays of knowledge" (1.105).
Ugh. Gag us with a spoon.
Did we mention that she brandishes a mean hickory switch? Miss Crocker whips both Cassie and Little Man on the first day of school (1.152-153), because they dare to draw attention to the pitiful books that have been cast off from Jefferson Davis County School. Unlike Mrs. Logan, Miss Crocker is not a rebel. She seems content with the status quo, and considers taking a stand against the whites' oppression "biting the hand that feeds you" (1.170)
Mr. and Mrs. Avery
Mr. and Mrs. Avery are T.J. and Claude's parents. Poverty-stricken and with eight kids, they sharecrop on Granger land. Initially, they support the boycott of the Wallace store but end up caving once Mr. Granger starts taking a higher percentage of cotton from them as rent. Plus, he threatens to throw them out of their house.
Mr. Avery is described as undernourished and sickly. He seems to not have much control of T.J., and doesn't really try to keep him away from the Wallace store. We don't see much of Mrs. Avery in the book, but she does fight back against the night men when they come to take T.J. away at the end of the book (11.75). This family helps us see just how oppressive the sharecropping system is.
Mr. and Mrs. Silas Lanier
The Laniers are another family of poor sharecroppers who also end up dropping out of the Wallace store boycott (along with the Averys). Cassie learns a lot of information by overhearing the Laniers talking to her parents, so Taylor uses them as a way to provide exposition.
The Berrys (John Henry, Beacon, Samuel)
The Berry family lives far from the Logans, in a town called Smellings Creek. Because they live so far out, they don't come around often, but they do make it in to the local church sometimes (1.32). John Henry and Beacon are brutally murdered by the Wallaces as a punishment for allegedly flirting with a white woman.
John Henry Berry
Accused of "flirting" with a white woman (2.55), John Henry is burned to death by the Wallaces. He fought in World War I and left behind a wife and six children upon his death.
Beacon is John Henry's brother, who is also burned to death.
The uncle of John Henry and Beacon, Samuel attempts to shelter his nephews when they are attacked by the Wallaces. They are all three dragged out of the house and burned alive. Samuel, the only one to survive the attack, is so badly burned that he is barely recognizable as human anymore:
A still form lay there staring at us with glittering eyes. The face had no nose, and the head no hair; the skin was scarred, burned, and the lips were wizened black, like charcoal. As the wheezing sound echoed from the opening that was a mouth, Mama said, 'Say good morning to Mrs. Berry's husband, children." (4.250).
Samuel Berry is the figure in the book that perhaps most graphically portrays the dehumanizing force of racism.
Mr. Tatum is another character who doesn't get any screen time. We only hear about how he was tarred and feathered by the night men because he accused Mr. Barnett of trying to cheat him on an order that he supposedly put in at the mercantile store in Strawberry. Check out his reaction:
'Mr. Barnett said he had all them things Mr. Tatum ordered writ down and when Mr. Tatum asked to see that list of his, Mr. Barnett says, "You callin' me a liar, boy?" And Mr. Tatum says, "Yessuh, I guess I is!"' (4.99).
So, even though we don't see him, it's clear Mr. Tatum is brave. Mr. Tatum's story gives readers yet another example of the widespread injustice that African Americans had to deal with during this time.