Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Study Guide

Mildred D. Taylor

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Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Family, Work, and School

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry follows the Logans, an African American family, through roughly one year. The story's events occur during the school year of 1933 and the following summer. It begins when the Logan children are walking to school on the first day. They get some surprising news: for the first time ever, they will get school books. However, the books are in terrible condition, given to black students when they are too battered for white students.

When the Logan children are working in the cotton fields, their father comes home from his job working on the railroads. He brings a giant of a man with him, who lost his job for fighting with white men. This man—Mr. Morrison—stays with the Logan family to work the farm in their father's absence.

When the fall rains come, the driver for the bus carrying the white children to their school entertains the white children. He amuses them by driving his bus through puddles to splash the black children. To get revenge, Stacey, the oldest Logan child, organizes the children to dig one puddle much deeper. The bus drives through it, gets stuck, and breaks an axle. The Logan children are overjoyed, but later that night, the "night riders" stop near their house. The children fear these white vigilantes will lynch them for destroying the bus.

The next day, T.J. Avery, another child in their community, tries to cheat on a test, and Stacey Logan gets in trouble for it. After school, Stacey chases T.J. to the Wallace store, where they fight. Mr. Morrison breaks the fight up because the Logan children aren't allowed to visit the Wallace store. Fighting in front of a white audience reinforces their prejudices. Later that week their mother takes some of the children to see the Berrys, a family white men set on fire.

Market in Strawberry

A week later, Cassie, the only Logan girl, goes with Big Ma, her grandmother, to the market at Strawberry to sell produce. Stacey and T.J. go with them. While in Strawberry, T.J. takes them to the mercantile store to admire a pistol he has his eye on. He also wants to buy things on his mother's list. The white store owner starts to fill the order, and then switches to serving white customers. When Cassie objects to what he's doing, the store owner yells at her for daring to correct a white person. After Cassie leaves the store, she bumps into Lillian Jean Simms, a white girl. Lillian Jean insists Cassie apologize, which she does. Then Lillian Jean's father knocks Cassie to the ground and insists she apologize again. After she does, Cassie runs for the wagon and only really escapes the situation because her grandmother grovels.

When they get home, their Uncle Hammer is there for Christmas. When he learns what Mr. Simms did to Cassie, he gets angry. Only Mr. Morrison's intervention keeps him from violent retribution. Over Christmas, the family shares many stories of the past. The adults discuss how to respond to the racial tensions in their region. Papa organizes the black families to shop in Vicksburg, so they aren't funding the white family that set the Berrys on fire. On Christmas day Jeremy Simms, Lillian Jean's brother, comes to give Christmas presents. He wants to be friends with Stacey, but Papa says it is hard for whites and blacks to be friends.

After Christmas, Cassie apologizes to Lillian Jean again and pretends to have learned her lesson. She voluntarily plays the role of a servant, carrying Lillian Jean's books to school until the white girl trusts her. Cassie eventually lures Lillian Jean into the woods. She beats Lillian Jean up but is careful to not leave a mark. When Lillian Jean threatens to tell, Cassie responds by threatening to tell all of Lillian Jean's secrets. That same day, the school fires Mama for teaching unapproved material, but it is really to put pressure on the Logans so they'll lose their land.

Threats to the Land

In March Mr. Jamison, a white lawyer, visits the Logans to warn Papa. He says he has heard Mr. Wallace saying he wasn't going to let the blacks ruin his business. Wallace would stop them from going to Vicksburg to shop. School ends for the black school soon after that, but Papa delays going back to work on the railroads because he's concerned about the political situation. Some of the black families drop out of the boycott because of threats. A few days later, Papa, Mr. Morrison, and Stacey go to Vicksburg to shop. When they're shopping, someone sabotages the wagon. It breaks down on the road. A truck comes up behind them. There's a confrontation in which Papa is shot and gets his leg broken. Mr. Morrison beats up the men in the truck, and they drive away.

Money is tight through the summer. When Mr. Morrison makes the August mortgage payment, the bank tells him the mortgage has to be paid immediately. Papa calls Hammer to let him know about the situation. Late in August, the community holds their annual religious revival. While the family is enjoying the feast that accompanies the revival, Hammer shows up on foot. He has sold his car so the family can pay the mortgage. After Hammer leaves, T.J. shows up at the revival. He's nicely dressed and spending time with Jeremy's older brothers, who seem to have nothing but contempt for him.

T.J. in Trouble

That night, T.J. appears at the Logan's house. He's been badly beaten and needs help getting home. He had gone with the Simms brothers to rob the mercantile store in Strawberry. When the owner interrupted, they knocked him unconscious. They did the same with the owner's wife. When T.J. threatened to expose what they did, the Simms brothers beat him and left him in the back of their truck. Several Logan children help T.J. home so he can sneak in without his father finding out. However, when the Logan children are leaving, several cars and trucks arrive at the Avery house. The white drivers call for T.J., and then swarm the house. They haul out the Avery family. The Wallaces accuse T.J. and two "black boys" of robbing the mercantile. The Simms brothers are there and know it was them with T.J., not two other African Americans. Mr. Jamison and the sheriff arrive, trying to calm things down. The sheriff says Mr. Granger won't allow lynching on his land. Kaleb Wallace revives the lynch mob's anger by suggesting they take T.J. somewhere else and hang Mr. Logan and Mr. Morrison as well. As Mr. Jamison steps in to try to protect T.J., Stacey sends Cassie to get their father for help.

When Cassie and her little brothers get home, the adults are ready to punish them for being out at night. When Cassie explains the situation, Papa shifts into a protective mode. He and Mr. Morrison go to help. There's a storm building, and the flashing lightning gives Papa an idea. He sets a fire that threatens everyone's crops. The white men shift from trying to lynch T.J. to working together with the black farmers to fight the fire. The rain finally arrives and helps put out the fire.

The next morning, Cassie and Little Man survey the aftermath of the fire. Blacks and whites are both so dirty with ash it is hard to tell them apart. Cassie and Little Man meet up with Stacey, Mama, and Big Ma. They learn when the fire hit, Mr. Granger, Papa, and Mr. Morrison got everyone organized to fight the fire. Mr. Granger turned T.J. over to the sheriff. Papa and Mr. Morrison arrive, as does Mr. Jamison. Mr. Barnett died of his injuries, and T.J. has a broken jaw and ribs. After Mr. Jamison leaves, Papa explains T.J. will be sent to the chain gang or worse, even though they know the Simms brothers were involved.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 The Logan children start school.

Rising Action

2 Papa brings Mr. Morrison home to stay with them.

3 The children sabotage the white children's school bus.

4 Stacey is punished for T.J.'s cheating; the two boys fight.

5 Two white men humiliate Cassie when she goes to Strawberry.

6 Uncle Hammer comes to visit for Christmas.

7 Cassie tricks Lillian Jean Simms—then beats her up.

8 Mr. Granger gets Mama fired.

9 The Wallaces ambush Papa.

10 Hammer sells his car so the family can pay the mortgage.


11 T.J. and the Simms brothers rob the store in Strawberry.

Falling Action

12 After the robbery goes bad, the Simms brothers beat T.J.

13 The Wallaces lead a lynch mob to the Avery house to kill T.J.

14 Papa starts a fire to distract everyone from killing T.J.


15 Blacks and whites fight the fire together to save the crops.

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