In In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, a highly acclaimed novel that was a New-bery Medal winner and an American Library Association Notable Book, Mildred D. Taylor created an African American saga for young people with her vivid portrayal of the Logan family.
The novel chronicles one traumatic year in the heroic lives of David Logan; his wife Mary; their children Cassie, Stacey, Little Man, and Christopher-John; and their extended family. Nine-year-old Cassie's narration enables Taylor to juxtapose childhood innocence and wonder with bigotry and racism. She creates a realistic world of rural Mississippi through the eyes of a child, without bitterness and polemics, but with surprise and growing disillusionment.
In 1933, the Great Depression grips the entire country, but what Cassie knows is that the price of cotton has dropped, forcing her father to leave home and find work on the railroad. Cassie learns what it means to be African American. She witnesses discrimination in her segregated school, feels terror when the Ku Klux Klan rides through the night, witnesses crimes against African Americans go unpunished, and is humiliated when she is forced to step off the sidewalk for Lillian Jean to pass, invoking white privilege.
The Logan family struggles to maintain its economic independence, symbolized by their ownership of four hundred acres of land. The land is their hope, representing, as it were, all of America's promises to its huddled masses longing to be free. The Logans, not sharecroppers, not illiterate, and not poverty-stricken, are educated, proud, and industrious. Their very presence threatens white supremacy, marking them for victimization. But the Logans are not victims—they are survivors. Their love for each other and for the land shelters them from the storm of aggression aimed to destroy them and take their land.
The author's angle of vision is unflinching. Taylor does not look away or soften the impact of racism for young readers. Instead, Cassie's movement from innocence to awareness to bitterness and disillusionment enables readers to experience vicariously these feelings and Taylor to show the influence events of the 1930s had on shaping the civil rights and Black Power movements of the 1950s and 1960s.
Most critics have praised Taylor's novel. However, Margery Fisher's review (Growing Point, Apr. 1978) claimed the book was altogether too natural and crowded with details and raw emotionalism. David Rees (“The Color of Skin: Mildred Taylor,” Horn Book, 1980) complained that Taylor loses the excitement of direct action by forcing the children to overhear or eavesdrop on their parents' conversations. In her Newbery Award acceptance speech (18 June 1977), Taylor recalled her temptation to place Cassie at the heart of all the adult action, but explained that she felt compelled to maintain Cassie in a child's place. Whatever is lost to excitement is offset by the realistic portrayal of parental efforts to shelter children from danger and life's unpleasant realities.
Emily R. Moore, review of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, in Interracial Books for Children, vol. 7, 1976, p. 18. Gerard Senick, ed., Children's Literature Review, vol. 9, 1985, pp. 223–229.