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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry

by Mildred D. Taylor

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How would you narrate T.J. Avery's arrest for murder in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry as a newspaper story?

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[Please note that at enotes, educators do not complete written assignments for students. We are, however, happy to offer guidelines and suggestions.]

Because the assignment is a newspaper story, a journalistic approach to writing the piece is appropriate. 

  • The student will need a headline that grabs the interest of readers. (Remember, too, that this article is written during the 1930s/ Jim Crow era of the South and in Mississippi, where much bigotry existed.) 

Something like this could be a headline: Negro boy arrested for Robbery and murder at Barnette Merchantile. ["Boy" was used for all black males at the time of the setting of Taylor's novel.]

  • A lead line is then necessary. This is a line that needs to pique the reader's interest enough to continue reading the article.

Here is an example: Negroes witnessed robbing store in Strawberry arrested, but Avery tries to blame white boys for the murder, whom he says were with him. 

The article itself should be written in the inverted pyramid style of newspaper reporting. That is, the main facts are given (Who, What, Where, When, and How); then, after the 5 W's and How are answered, details about T. J. can follow, such as, perhaps, some comments from the Wallaces about how T. J. acted at their store, or how he was in some trouble at school.

Of course, this newspaper story will be slanted in favor of the white Simms boys. Here are some details you may wish to include in the article:

  • R.W. and Melvin Simms, who stated that when they went to town to play pool, they witnessed T. J. Avery commit the robbery at the Barnett's store.
  • Mrs. Barnett says she saw three Negroes who were in the Barnett Mercantile when her husband shone a flashlight on them. Because they were all dark, she cried out, "You niggers done killed Jim Lee!" after one struck him with an ax.
  • T. J. claims she thought they were all Negroes because the Simms boys wore dark masks.

The newspaper story can contain additional details:

  • A report was given by Mrs. Barnett of how Mr. Barnett heard glass breaking in his store and went to investigate. When he shone a flashlight upon three boys, they struggled with Mr. Barnett, according to his wife, until one of them (T. J. says it was R. W.) hit him on the head from behind with the flat part of the ax they had used to break a gun case. 
  • The robbers also struck Mrs. Barnett, causing her to hit her head against a stove. (You may need to organize these details some more.)
  • Mr. Barnett died at four o'clock the following morning.
  • T. J. Avery swears the Simms were the leaders of the robbery. He says the Simms boys beat him because he was going to tell what really happened. T. J., who has broken ribs, tells the reporter "they said they'd do worse than this if I ever told" (Chapter 11). 
  • T.J. Avery will go on trial on ________ and may face time on a chain gang 

Summation: Remember to order the most important details at the top and the other details as the article nears its end. First, report on the robbery and the murder of Mr. Jim Lee Barnett; then, provide details of what happened, the testimony of Mrs. Barnett, and the claims by the Simms boys that they were on their way to play pool and saw T. J. break into the store through a small window. Also, include the fact that he was caught in possession of a stolen pistol from the Barnett's store. And, finally, include what T. J. Avery claims happened. (His words would be given the least amount of credence.) 

T. J. Avery will go on trial (you can put a date and place) and, if convicted, may face hanging or time on a chain gang. [A great majority of hangings were of black males, but he may be saved from hanging because he is young. You may wish to research the age at which hanging took place.]

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