The Black Community In ?Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry? Essay, Research Paper
In the nineteenth Century, in the United States of America, there was a distinctive division of the northern states and the southern states. During this time, the North was prospering with New York becoming an important business centre of the world. The North was certainly more industrialised than the South, which was much more agriculturally based. Huge plantations of land were built to harvest products such as cotton and sugar. However, due to the amount of work involved, cheap labour was favourable to most plantation owners. One source of this cheap labour came in the form of slavery, a custom that has existed across the world for thousands of years, but these slaves were obtained by capturing and brutally transporting young Africans from South Africa. Out of every 200 slaves that were sent off from Africa, it is said that a mere 60 survived, and even then, were close to death. They were whipped until they bled and were washed with salt water, which must have been agonising. They were barely fed and locked in the hull of the ship like livestock. Considering the average time for a North Atlantic crossing was three months, the amount of brutality they were subjected to must have been horrendous. Once they arrived in America, the slaves were sold to wealthy families or plantation owners. If they were lucky, they would be sold to a good master, but invariably, they were treated as objects, to be worked until they died. Many tried to escape, few succeeded, and if caught, they were severely punished. Cruel masters punished their slaves depending on the crime, but it usually involved losing a limb.
The Northern part of the USA strongly believed that slavery was cruel and wrong. The arguments between the North and the South were mainly over interpretations of the US constitution. These quarrels continued into the 1860?s, the time that Abraham Lincoln became President. In 1861, the American Civil War broke out between the North and the South. At first, the North was fighting for the reunification of the two sides to form a great USA again, but the South was fighting for its independence. However, when President Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation, the motive changed. The South fought against the abolition of slavery and the North fought for its abolition. The Northern victory in 1865 secured the end of slavery for good. In the years following, came the period of racial adjustment and all slaves were liberated. This was much to Southern white people?s dissatisfaction, who had grown up believing that black people were inferior to them. Plantations still needed to be worked and so for the first time ever, black people were paid for their work, however, the wages were very low. Due to the fact that many liberated slaves had no other skills and no financial security, a large percentage returned to the plantations. The Logan family was very lucky to have their own land. The Avery?s were a typical family ?sharecropping? on a plantation. The story of how the Logan?s acquired their land is told by Big Ma in chapter four.
As little as five years after the end of the American Civil War, black people were starting to be treated as animals again. Many laws that made black people equal were rejected and reversed. The Ku Klux Klan was a secret organisation dedicated to restoring white superiority. Black people, whether they were old, young, male or female were subjected to a great deal of hatred. They were lynched, then either burnt alive, castrated, blinded with hot pokers or decapitated, or maybe a mixture of each. The American government did not do anything to stop these atrocities; they went on without consent or trial. An example of this in the book is when Mr Morrison tells of how his family was killed by ?night men? in chapter seven.
Into the twentieth century, black people continued to be bullied by the whites. By the mid 1930?s, the situation was at an all time high. Segregation was a feature of everyday life, segregation meant black people were separated from white people, for example separate public toilets were constructed. Also, America was hit by an economic depression, causing cotton prices to fall. ?Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry?, is set during this time.
In this essay, I am aiming to discuss the factors that made the black communities of America so distinctive from the white. I will be closely referring to the book ?Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry? by Mildred D. Taylor.
The main features I am going to focus upon in this essay are how black families are very strong and close, how the black community is strong, the racist events in the book and finally how the black community deals with racism on a whole.
?Roll Of Thunder, Hear My Cry?, is set in the nineteen-thirties and is about the Logan family, a black family living is Mississippi. The family comprises of Big Ma, David Logan?s mother, David and Mary Logan and four their children, Little Man, Christopher-John, Cassie and Stacey. They live in a house on their own land, which was bought from a white man after slavery was abolished. The book is told from Cassie?s point of view. This is a very important factor of the book, because as the story opens up to her, it opens up to the reader. Cassie is eight years old, she is at the stage in her life where she starts asking questions about things such as racism and slavery, and therefore, as it is explained to her, it is explained to us. An example of this is in chapter five, when Mary explains to Cassie about why black people are victimised.
From the beginning of the book, it is clear that the Logan family is not very wealthy. I get this impression on the very first page, from the fact that the black children are wearing their Sunday clothes to school. This suggests that they have a limited range of clothes. On the first day of term, the children are sent to school looking very smart, but then go to school in torn old clothes the rest of the year. This is an extremely important feature because it shows that they have respect for the education system. Also, they have to walk to school, rather than get a bus because the school cannot afford one. However Jefferson Davis High have a fully working bus that picks all the white children up before school and takes them home after. Nevertheless, the children walk for two hours, determined not to let the white children?s jeers get to them. The Great Faith Elementary School itself is a weather beaten hut, which is funded by the Great Faith Church, the black community?s church. This shows that the black community tries to give their children the best education they can no matter how much of a struggle. It may also be evidence to suggest that the black community does not like to owe the white people anything, or it may be simply that white people refuse to help them in any way, shape or form. The county adequately funds the school for the white children. The black school has to accept books that have been used by the white school, this is demoralising and humiliating for the children and especially Mrs Logan, who is a teacher at Great Faith. When Mrs Logan expresses her disgust regarding the second hand books, a white board of directors eventually fires her. All of this is evidence of all the hardship and prejudice that the black community has to deal with.
The black community endures this treatment because they will not be belittled by the white people. They try to show their strength to the white people whatever the circumstances. They stand together as one, supporting each other through thick and thin. Evidence of this is when Mr Berry and his nephews are burnt by racists, Big Ma acts as a community doctor, doing whatever she can to help. Perhaps this also shows that black people do not want help from white people due to the racism that they incur from them. After the Berry?s burning, the black people do not directly retaliate with physical violence because if they did, they would have no backing from the law and would almost certainly be executed. So instead, the Logans try to start a boycott of a store owned by the Wallaces, a white family. Black boycotting of white stores was quite common in the 1930?s because it did not involve direct conflict, risking being lynched. However, in this case, the Wallaces find out who is responsible for the boycott and threaten the Logans. This would have been particularly worrying for them, as any such stirring of trouble would add to the already tense relationship between the races.
The Logans are a close family, who is lucky enough to own their own land. Big Ma in chapter four tells the story of how they own the land. This is also an important feature of the black community because it shows that the older members of the family pass stories down to the younger members by word of mouth. Big Ma tells the particular story about how they have their land proudly, because it was very uncommon for black people to own their own land and for a white person to sell them the land in the first place. More evidence that the Logans are strong, in the sense that they stick together, is that even though the children?s father has been away so long, he still comes home to a warm reception from the whole family.
The black community on a whole is very strong; everybody looks out for each other. Evidence of this is when Joe Avery calls on the Logans to warn them that ?They?re ridin? tonight? referring to a gang of racists that went out at night and killed unsuspecting black people that had been stirring up trouble, just like the Logans. This is how Mr Morrison?s family was killed when he was a child. Further evidence to support the strength of the community is when Mrs Logan goes to the Berry?s house with food because of Mr Berry being burnt by racists. Even when they are short of money, the Logans manage to spare some food for those less fortunate than themselves. One major event of the book comes at the end when TJ is about to be beaten to death. Papa comes up with a way to save TJ without physical conflict. He sets fire to his own cotton, so to turn the men?s attention from TJ to putting the fire out. Considering how financially unstable the Logans were, I think this shows immense community spirit.
Growing up in a family that owns its own land, Cassie was a bit na?ve regarding racism. This was no fault of her own; her family had understandably protected their children from racism. However, when Cassie began to taste the real world, it was extremely frightening. An event in the book that illustrates this is the trip to Strawberry in chapter five. When Big Ma is away, the children go into the mercantile and ask for what they need. Midway through serving them, the storeowner begins to serve a white lady. At first Cassie finds this understandable because the woman is an adult, but as time goes by, they realise that he is serving a young white girl no older than Cassie. This confuses Cassie and she shouts at the storeowner, attracting much attention from other shoppers. This turns Cassie?s entire world upside down, no longer was she in a cosy world, where everybody was equal, and she experienced the harsh world for the first time. In response to this event, Cassie?s mother decided to explain what the world was like. I think this must have been devastating and confusing for Cassie. She says at the end of the day, ?No day in all my life had ever been as cruel as this one?. The black people deal with racism by ignoring it, which I think, is outstanding considering all the cruelty that they were subjected to. No direct physical retaliation came from the black people because in the nineteen-thirties, police were invariably racist, so the black people did not have the law on their side. If any conflict had resulted in the death of a white person, a black person could expect to be put on the chain gang or even hung.
Another factor, which is significant about the book, is that not all the white people are racist and not all the black people are innocent and wrongfully accused of things. Jeremy Simms is a white boy, who has been friends with the white children for as long as they could remember. He had continually met the black children at the crossroads in the morning, and met them there at night. Jeremy is an outcast in the white community, due to his friendship with the Logans. He is bullied by his family and his fellow pupils, yet still makes an effort to meet them, even though the feeling is not entirely mutual. Another significant example is TJ Avery, a black child who from the beginning of the book, seems to crave attention and control over conversations. I think Taylor put this contrast of personalities in the book because she wanted to show that everybody is different.
I think that it is a shame that realistically, the strong bond in the black community probably came about through racism. They had no one but each other to look out for them and so they had to be close to survive. I don?t think they should have been abused and bullied for being black, I think a lot could have been learnt from them.
Mildred Taylor was an African American author, who grew up in Southern USA she was born after the time in which her book was supposed to be set. Just like Cassie, she grew up with stories being passed down from her grandparents of her heritage and about the history of her family. The stories about how her ancestors were strong and stood up to criticism and ridicule from white people contradicted the accounts she had read in textbooks, in them, she was led to believe that black people, no matter how badly treated, accepted their lives. So, she decided to tell the real story of the plight of the black people to the world.