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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor is set in the American South in 1934 and 1935. Through stories told by the main character, Cassie Logan, and her two brothers, Stacey, who is twelve, and Christopher-John, who is seven, we learn what it was like, in part, to grow up during segregation.
Life was often inexplicably unfair for the Logan children, their families, and friends. For example, Cassie and her friends must walk to school but white children get to ride the bus. The Logans endure the humiliation of being given left over school supplies and dirty, used clothing. Life is difficult for everyone during the Great Depression, but people of color have it harder than whites.
On a personal level, Cassie must deal with her difficult teacher, Mrs. Crocker and the daily humiliations of race-baiting by whites. But through it all, Cassie manages to internalize her mother's wisdom. Big Ma tells her,
“Baby, we have no choice of what color we're born or who our parents are or whether we're rich or poor. What we do have is some choice over what we make of our lives once we're here.”
As the novel progresses, the threats become more than just words... they become truly dangerous. Cassie and her family fear for their lives, especially after a neighbor's farm is torched. But Big Ma refuses to be intimidated and shoved off their land. She explains to Cassie that despite the continuing threats and the reality of what happened to their neighbors,
”There are things you can't back down on, things you gotta take a stand on. But it's up to you to decide what them things are. You have to demand respect in this world, ain't nobody just gonna hand it to you. How you carry yourself, what you stand for--that's how you gain respect. But, little one, ain't nobody's respect worth more than your own.”
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