How is racism and prejudice projected out in this novel ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,’ and what does it tell about the culture and traditions of the society? The novel, ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry,’ was written by a black American writer, Mildred D. Taylor. She was born in Jackson, Mississippi during the 1940’s. Mildred and her family lived there since the time of the slavery. She dedicated this novel to her father, who she claims ‘played an important role in her life. ‘ Mildred was aware of her culture, her history and her heritage being connected to the indifference of the whites to the blacks during those days.
It was perhaps the difference in the status of both of their sides and the skills that she had inherited from her father that inspired and encouraged her to write the novel. This novel is set in the 1930’s, in the southern state of Mississippi. The United States of America back then, until now, was formed by a number of states. These states made their own laws about internal matters but when it came to Federal laws, the President would be the one to issue their laws. Back then, the Southern states of America relied on agriculture whereas the Northern states were more industrialized.
In the Southern states of America, the land was worked on predominantly by the black slaves. These black slaves were imported from Africa during the 17th century. This action was what caused great conflict between the Northern and the Southern states of America. The main aim of the Northern states was the unification of the country and freedom to all blacks, being kept as slaves, as this was considered not just and morally wrong. This action led to the Civil war, which broke up the nation as well as more families. In the end, the Southern states submitted to the Northern General Ulysses Grant.
A Period of Reconstruction was introduced and was imposed by the Northern states to the Southern states. The conclusion of this action was that slavery was abolished and more than four million blacks were given freedom. The new found freedom given to the blacks enraged the whites who always thought them to be inferior. The Southerners greatly resented the freedom given to the blacks and despised them even more. The outcome of this resentment was the formation of the Ku Klux Klan. The Ku Klux Klan was a secret society whose primary aim was to establish white supremacy.
Soon after the Reconstruction, a period of fear and intimidation spread through out the country. Many of the laws which were established to make both the sides equal were twisted or reversed. It was then that a group of whites organized themselves to form what they called the ‘night men’. The night men slaughtered and punished black families, coming for them when they least expected it. The blacks were lynched, burnt alive, castrated, and were even blinded with hot pokers. During the 1930’s, America was hit by a serious economic depression.
The Southerners were hit very badly by this occurrence and were the ones that suffered most. As a result of this depression prices of cotton and other agricultural products went down. There was a rise in unemployment which created more hardships for the blacks as well as the whites. Many of the black writers wanted to explore and exhibit the richness and complexity of their community. As a result of doing so, they helped a wider range of people to achieve a deeper understanding of the black community. Those black writers considered themselves to be the agents of self discovery for the whole nation.
They represented the black people as individuals and as human beings, which were exactly what the system of slavery denied to them, most of the writings channeled the longing for self-respect and freedom, aspects disregarded by the white community. In the 1970’s, the Black Rights Movement and the Women’s Liberation Movement intersected with feminism. It was then that a link between the black consciousness and feminism were formed. The black women started to write about their experiences. There was also an autobiographical element, a common feature among Afro-American Literature.
More and more black writers tried to exhibit the difficulty of living a decent life when they had the disadvantage of being a black. It was to this similar tradition that Mildred D. Taylor belonged. ‘Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry’ clearly demonstrates the themes of ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’ throughout the book, as well as the other themes that the readers come across later on. The first source of indifference is seen in the educational systems of the blacks and the whites. In the beginning of the story, the readers realize that more importance was given to the education of the whites compared to the blacks.
The whites started their school year on September, a month earlier than the blacks would start their school year. The reason behind this was that the black children were obligated to help their parents in the fields as they planted cotton for their living. The white children did not experience these hardships as they were privileged by both wealth and status. The whites attended Jefferson Davis County School. A school dedicated to the white education as they did not want to associate themselves with the black students. It was a long white wooden building that could be seen from a distance.
Jefferson Davis School had a wide sports field behind the building. The school was provided with two buses, another privilege declined to the black children. At the very centre of the school lawn was positioned two flags; the Mississippi flag with its confederate emblem and below it was the American flag. On the other hand, the blacks were to attend Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School, a school considered to be one of the largest black schools in the County. Great Faith consisted of four weather beaten wooden houses, 320 students, seven teachers, a principal, a caretaker, not to mention the caretaker’s cow.
The school was located near a church, the same church to which most of the students of Great Faith belonged. The church being situated near the school just proves how much the blacks valued their religion. With this information, the readers find proof in the fact that the government in those days didn’t really give importance to the black education. It was this lack of financial support, to the black education, that provoked many of them to prove themselves and their race to be worthy of a proper education.
Cassie, the narrator of the story, introduces the readers to the life led not only by her and her brothers but also to the life, all the blacks in their community, led. The scene opens as Cassie and her brothers, Stacey, Christopher John and Little Man, travel to school. Since it was the first day that Little Man would be attending school, he wanted to keep himself clean. As the Logan children walked to school, they were joined by T. J. , Stacey’s best friend, and his younger brother Claude. T. J. then began to tell them about the incident that happened the previous night.
He told them how two drunken whites burned two black brothers and their uncle, alive. It so happened that a certain black man flirted with a white woman, Sally Anne. Sally Anne then complained to her fellow whites and this infuriated them. That night when they were drunk, they saw two black men at the fuel station and just presumed that they were the ones that Sally Anne had talked about. They chased them till they reached their uncle’s house. The brothers and their uncle started to fight them off but to no avail. The whites burned them alive.
And when the sheriff questioned the witness Henrietta, who was the cousin of the two brothers, he called her a liar for telling what happened and then told her to go home. This just proves that although the whites didn’t have enough reason they still continued on with their actions without even thinking about the consequences. The facts that those white men were drunk don’t justify their actions. It also proves that although there was still freedom of speech, what the blacks said was not believed. In this context, language is used as a sign of resistance.
The blacks struggle away from the life that their ancestors lived as slaves but that was something the whites would never give them. In their community, justice was not achieved by proof but rather through race. The color of your skin mattered more than the fact that you were actually telling the truth. As the children neared the school, all hopes of Little Man staying clean were ruined when Stacey motioned them off the road to avoid the bus of Jefferson Davis School which was approaching. As the bus passed by, it splattered Little Man with mud.