Mildred Taylor’s 1976 novel of nine-year-old Cassie Logan and her family, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, takes place during the Great Depression that began in 1929 and extended well into the 1930s. The Logans are a poor African-American family that nevertheless has the benefit of owning its own property in Mississippi. Being the Deep South decades before the civil rights movement, racism and racist policies dominated life throughout the Mississippi Delta. Segregation and discrimination is the common practice among the Caucasians who govern the southern states. Opportunities for blacks, needless to say, are few and difficult to come by. It is in this context that Taylor, born in Jackson, Mississippi, but raised primarily in Toledo, Ohio, where her father moved the family to escape the virulent racism of the South, depicts the African-American experience in her novels.
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the second novel Taylor authored about her fictitious Logan family, whose experiences were inspired by stories her father would tell about life in Mississippi. It is in the context of Taylor’s experiences and observations, born of her father’s stories and of family trips back to Mississippi to visit relatives, that provides the setting for the quote uttered by Mama in response to Uncle Hammer’s aggressive driving intended to cut-off a vehicle transporting whites only to then encounter the violently-racist Wallace brothers, “ ‘. . . one day we’ll have to pay for it. Believe me,’ she [Mama] said, ‘one day, we’ll pay’.”
Throughout the story, the Logan family is continuously qualifying predictions or promises born of their economic situation. The phrase “one day” is injected into numerous suggestions of better things to come, or of the difficulty children experience grasping reality. For example, Papa, responding to Cassie’s questioning about why her father has to be away from home so often, responds, “You may not understand that now, but one day you will.” Later, Big Ma consoles Little Man, whose clothes have repeatedly been soiled by inconsiderate drivers: “Now look here, baby. It ain’t the end of the world. Lord, child, don’t you know one day the sun’ll shine again and you won’t get muddy no more.” And, again, when Uncle Hammer is telling Stacy and Cassie about his newly acquired car: “You like? Maybe we’ll go riding in it one day. If it’s all right with your mama.” The Logan family’s economic and social situation is so depressed that every aspiration can be hoped for “some day.” When Mama warns Uncle Hammer of the consequences of his action, her use of the phrase is considerably more ominous. In fact, it portends tragedy to come.