Critical Context (Masterplots II: African American Literature)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry won the 1977 Newbery Medal for “the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Taylor dedicates the novel to the memory of her father, “a master storyteller” who gave her countless oral historiesof great-grandparents and of slavery and of the days following slavery; of those who lived still not free, yet who would not let their spirits be enslaved. From my father the storyteller I learned to respect the past, to respect my own heritage and myself.
Like Alex Haley in Roots, which was also published in 1976, Taylor was tracing her own black history and retelling a story, as she describes it in her Newbery Award acceptance speech, “about human pride and survival in a cruelly racist society.”
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is the central work in the cycle of novels about the Logan family, works aimed at both elementary and adolescent readers. The first was Song of the Trees (1975), a story for elementary readers concerning the Logan forest; Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981) is the sequel to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry and focuses on Stacey Logan and the trial of T. J. Avery. The Friendship (1987) continues the Logan history in a story for younger readers centering on a confrontation with an elderly black man at the Wallace store. Finally, in The Road to Memphis (1990), Cassie helps a black youth to flee the state after a fight with white youths. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, however, remains the best work in the series, as the numerous awards to it attest. Besides the Newbery Medal, the novel was awarded the American Library Association Notable Book Citation and was a National Book Award finalist.
Like a number of writers in the last decades of the twentieth century—William Armstrong in Sounder (1969), Paula Fox in The Slave Dancer (1973), or Virginia Hamilton in Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush (1982), for example—Mildred D. Taylor is giving back to her readers authentic and positive portraits of earlier black life.