illustration of a fire spreading through a field

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor

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Chapter 5 Summary

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Big Ma wakes Cassie and Stacey, telling them they are coming with her to the nearby town of Strawberry. T.J. is riding along, too. Cassie, who has never been to Strawberry before, is excited until she realizes the town is small and dusty—not the bustling city she expects.

At the market in Strawberry, Big Ma sets up her wagon to sell farm produce. Cassie is confused when Big Ma chooses a spot far from the market’s entrance. Big Ma explains that the wagons by the entrance all belong to White people. Cassie does not understand why Big Ma cannot sell produce alongside Whites.

After the market winds down, Big Ma goes to see Mr. Jamison, a White lawyer. Cassie likes him because, unlike most White men, he treats Mama and Big Ma with respect. Big Ma tells the kids to wait for her on the sidewalk but T.J. convinces the others to go to the store with him instead.

At the store, T.J. shows Cassie and Stacey a pearl-handled pistol he wants. He says nobody would ever try to hurt him if he had a gun like that. Stacey gets nervous and threatens to leave.

The shopkeeper begins waiting on T.J. but stops when a White customer walks in. The shopkeeper helps a series of White customers, one after the other, and eventually Cassie thinks he must have forgotten about T.J. She speaks up, pointing out that T.J. was there first. The shop owner yells and swears at Cassie. When Cassie argues her point, the shop owner kicks her out. He tells Stacey that Cassie cannot come back “till yo’ mammy teach her what she is.”

Stacey takes Cassie outside, where she bumps into Lillian Jean Simms, the older sister of her White friend, Jeremy. Lillian Jean demands that Cassie apologize, and Cassie does. Then Lillian Jean orders Cassie to get down in the street. Cassie refuses. This makes Lillian Jean furious. Mr. Simms, the father of Jeremy and Lillian Jean, arrives and demands that Cassie obey his daughter. Jeremy begins to speak up for Cassie, but he is silenced with a single look.

When Cassie still refuses to back down, Mr. Simms twists her arm and pushes her into the street. Frightened, Cassie tries to scramble away, and someone grabs her. Cassie struggles until she realizes the person doing the grabbing is Big Ma, back from the lawyer’s office. Cassie expects Big Ma to make Mr. Simms stop bothering her.

Mr. Simms tells Big Ma to make Cassie apologize. Big Ma protests, saying Cassie is just a child. When Mr. Simms insists, Big Ma gives in and orders Cassie to apologize. Shaken and tearful, Cassie obeys.

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