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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor

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How does the Berry man's burning impact Cassie and her community in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry?

Quick answer:

The burning of the Berry man affects Cassie and her community very deeply in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry because they are angry, upset, and scared over what's happened, knowing as they do that the same thing could happen to them.

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The death of John Henry Berry has a profound effect on Cassie and the wider community. When it becomes clear that Berry's death was no accident and that he was killed by some drunken white men, the community is angry, scared, and upset, not least because everyone knows that the exact same thing could've happened to them.

The group of white men set Berry on fire after accusing him of flirting with a white woman. There's no evidence that he's guilty of such a transgression, but to these drunken racists, that doesn't matter. For them, suspicion is enough.

In the Deep South at that time, it was all too common for African Americans to be summarily lynched on even the slightest suspicion that they'd breached society's informal racial code. The merest hint of sexual relations between Black people and white people was considered anathema, as it spoke to the profound fear that white Southerners of racial mixing. And so a number of white people, including even members of law enforcement, would take it upon themselves to murder those African Americans they suspected of violating this unwritten code.

Mr. Berry is one such victim. His brother Beacon, who was traveling in the car with him, was another. So too was their uncle, dragged out of the house and set on fire along with his nephews. Fortunately, Beacon and his uncle survive, but they suffer appalling injuries. What's particularly concerning to the community is that this could've happened to any one of them. At this time and in this place they have no rights and are effectively at the mercy of white supremacists.

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