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Very early in Mildred D. Taylor’s novel of life in the post-Civil War American South, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, told from the perspective of a young African-American girl, Cassie Logan, the reader is introduced to the Berry family through a reference to the previous night’s events. As Cassie’s older brother, Stacey, and his friend T.J. talk, T.J. brings the subject of conversation around to the Berrys:
'I betcha I could give y'all an earful 'bout that burnin' last night.'
'Burning I What burning?' asked Stacey.
'Man, don't y'all know nothin'! The Berrys' burnin'.
In the post-Civil War South, reference to a “burnin” in the context of African-American sharecroppers and the enduring racism and violence prevalent throughout the region, can have only one meaning: a night raid by white supremacists that resulted in the burning of an African-American home and/or church, and possibly the lynching of the occupants. As the conversation among the children continues, T.J. continues to reveal bits of information regarding Mr. Berry and his family:
“He's low sick all right, 'cause he got burnt near to death. Him and his two nephews, And you know who done . . .”
And, finally, T.J. provides the information for which the other children are anxiously awaiting:
“Finally T.J. said, 'Okay. See, them Berrys' burnin' wasn't no accident . Some white men took a match to 'em,'”
In Taylor’s novel, the Berry family is burned out of their home by virulently and violently racist whites. While the novel makes no specific mention of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), but in real-life it was the KKK that frequently carried out such night-time attacks on African-American homes, often killing the fathers by hanging or beating. Beyond the attack on the Berry family, more such attacks will occur during the course of Taylor’s story.
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