Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Chapter 1
Nine-year-old Cassie Logan and her brothers, six-year-old Little Man, twelve-year-old Stacey and seven-year-old Christopher-John, are walking to school. They live in the country in Mississippi, and the roads are dusty. Though their walk is long, Little Man won't walk fast, because he doesn't want to stir up dust and get his clothes dirty. Cassie worries that they will be late, and Stacey is annoyed with her. She knows Stacey is in a bad mood because he has to be in their mother's class that year. Christopher-John doesn't want them to fight--he just wants everyone to be happy.
Cassie looks at the land around her. Most of it belongs to Harlan Granger, but a small part of it belongs to her family. Even that had belonged to Granger, until Cassie's grandfather had bought it in 1887 when the Grangers had to sell in order to pay their taxes. Even today Cassie's family owes mortgage on half their land. Money is scarce, so Cassie's father has gone to work on the railroad. It is now 1933, and he has been working on the railroad for several months out of the year for two years. Cassie hates that he has to go away, and once asked him why making payments on the land is so important. Her father tells her, "Look out there, Cassie girl. All that belongs to you. You ain't never had to live on nobody's place but your own and long as I live and the family survives, you'll never have to." Chapter 1, pg. 7 Everyone in the family, even her father's brother Hammer, her Mama and her grandmother, Big Ma, own part of the land and work for it. Hammer sends money from Chicago. Mama teaches at the school. Big Ma works as hard as a young woman picking cotton.
Cassie wonders whether she will ever understand why the land is so important. Just then T.J. Avery and his brother Claude appear. The Avery family share-crops on Granger land. T.J. is a friend of Stacey's, and though he is a year older he will be in Stacey's class this year, because he failed last year. T.J. wants Stacey to help him cheat on tests, but Stacey refuses. Then T.J. brings up a "burning" that took place the night before. None of the children really like T.J. and they know he just wants to tell them a secret so that he can feel important, but they are curious anyway. T.J. explains that some white men burned one of their neighbors, Mr. Berry, and his two nephews, nearly to death. Mama Logan and Big Ma brought comfort and medicine to the Berrys. T.J. doesn't know anything else.
T.J. changes the subject, saying that Cassie almost got him in trouble by telling his mother that he went to the Wallace store, where the children have been forbidden to go. He lied to his mother, telling her that he was only there to pick up Claude, and Claude had been beaten instead. Claude is so afraid of his brother that he didn't tell his mother the truth.
Just then, a school bus full of white children drives by. Little Man doesn't move out of the way fast enough, and his clothes get covered in dust. T.J. laughs and everyone angrily tells him to shut up. Little Man asks why the bus didn't stop for them. Stacey tells him the white people like to see them get dirty, and that they don't have a bus of their own. Just then Jeremy, a white boy, runs up to meet them. No one really likes him, and his mean sister Lillian Jean told the Logan children that Jeremy gets beaten for being with black children, but Jeremy doesn't stop meeting them. No one knows why Jeremy likes them. After leaving Jeremy at the white school, the Logans move on and reach their own school. Most of the children at their school only come when there is no work to be done in the fields. Many of them will drop out before they graduate.
Cassie is left alone on the playground as her brothers run off to join their friends. She goes inside, and finds that her fourth grade class and the first grade class are combined, because the first grade teacher will be a few days late. Cassie takes a seat, annoying the principal's daughter, who wanted the same seat. Daisy Crocker, the teacher, is boring and cheerful in a fake way. Ms. Crocker surprises them by telling them they will have books this year. Most of them have never even touched a book other than the bible. Even Cassie is excited--until she sees that the books are badly worn, with writing all over them. Little Man refuses a book because he says it is too dirty. Ms. Crocker gets very angry, calling him ungrateful. Little Man reluctantly takes a book, but after flipping through it, throws it on the floor angrily. Cassie looks at the front of her book to see what made him so angry, and finds a chart that gives the condition of the book and the race of the student using it. Many white children had used her book, and the last entry reads, "nigra." Cassie tries to show Ms. Crocker, but when she sees the chart the teacher says, "That's what you are." Chapter 1, pg. 26 Little Man and Cassie both refuse their books, and they are both beaten.
After school, Cassie runs to tell her mother what happened, but Ms. Crocker gets there first. Cassie listens outside the door as Ms. Crocker explains what happened. Mama listens and nods, but she busies herself with gluing paper over the upsetting chart at the front of each book. She ignores Ms. Crocker's protests. Mama has always been a little different from the other teachers at the school. Cassie thinks, "I would wait until the evening to talk to her; there was no rush now. She understood." Chapter 1, pg. 31