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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor
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What is the correlation between agency and empowerment?

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In Mildred D. Taylor’s novel Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the Logan family is in certain ways representative of southern black families of the time. Raised in a multi-generational home, the Logan children go to school, help with household and farm chores and get themselves into trouble like children their age do. Their father, like many men following the conclusion of the Civil War and Reconstruction, finds himself working a job away from home to help support his mother and wife, who are living at home and caring for the children. The children's mother, a school teacher, runs the household with the help of her mother-in-law, like many women of this period.

What is unusual about this family is that they are a black family who own roughly 400 acres of land in the south. At the time, most black families were sharecroppers, living on former plantation lands, paying rent to a white man who owned the lands, and working the land for little in exchange. The Logan family has a shared sense of agency that many other black families at the time could not identify with. The Logans are able to farm what they wanted to farm, shop where they want to shop, and make decisions without the influence of a white land owning man.

This ownership leads the Logans to feel a sense of empowerment in many aspects of life. First, when they choose to boycott the Wallace store following the burning of the Berry men, the Logans have the freedom to choose where they are going to shop instead; unlike their sharecropping neighbors, they do not need a signature from the land owner for the good they purchase. They have the power to pay for their own things without the signature of a white man backing them up, and thus they have the power to take their business where they choose. The Logans choose to support others in their communities by empowering them to shop for their goods in other places as well. They use their status as a land-owning family to empower other families.

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