Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry Plot Summary
Nine-year-old Cassie Logan lives with her brothers Stacey, Little Man, and Christopher-John on a farm in Mississippi. Unlike most of the black families they live near, they own land, because their father has always believed in the power of owning one's own property. Even though the children come from a happy home and have more money than some of their neighbors, they are very poor and must endure constant insults and cruelties from the racist white people who live near them. In fact, the racial problems in their area seem to be getting worse: some of their neighbors were burned to death recently, for seemingly no reason at all. Their father has had to go to work far away just so they can have enough money to live on. He sends a friend, Mr. Morrison, to live with the children, their mother, and Papa's own mother "Big Ma" while he is gone. A white man has been trying to force them to sell their land to him for years.
The children try to ignore these realities, walking to school everyday with Stacey's friend T.J., who everyone else finds annoying. They are smart and mischievous. They get splashed by the white children's school bus every day, until they dig a hole in the road and cause an accident, so the bus can't be used for weeks. Still, this kind of revenge isn't always enough. Cassie goes to town one weekend and is insulted first by a shopkeeper and then by a white girl her age. She is forced to accept these insults, or suffer even worse punishment. The Logan children never want to accept such treatment, but their parents tell them that sometimes, they must, and T.J. seems accustomed to it. Cassie is able to get revenge on a white girl her age, but she cannot understand the more sinister violence that has plagued the lives of many black people around her, including Mr. Morrison, whose parents were killed by white people. Many of her neighbors are kept poor because their bosses don't pay them enough, which keeps them constantly indebted to their bosses, making the problem worse. With the help of a friendly white man, Mama and Papa try to organize a boycott of the store most of the black people in town are forced to shop at, but this angers most of the white people so much that they fire Mama from her teaching job. They threaten to put the black people in jail if they can't pay their debts (which none of them can.) Mama and Papa refuse to give up, however.
Meanwhile, T.J. has begun to steal and cheat, and has become friends with two older white boys, who only seem to like him because they can ridicule him. Many of the black people in town are worried that something very bad is going to happen soon: the white people are angry because of the attempted boycott (even though they managed to crush it) and T.J. is getting out of control. One night when Papa and Morrison are returning from shopping at the non-racist store, Papa gets shot at. He can no longer work, and has to ask his hotheaded brother Hammer for money. Hammer has always been easily angered by racism, and Papa worries that Hammer will lose his temper and provoke a white man into killing him. Papa, Mama and Big Ma manage to control Hammer, and he gives them enough money to pay their debts. Still, everyone is nervous, and they wait in fear for what the white people might do next. When T.J. robs a store with his two white friends, the white townspeople get their chance to attack. Refusing to believe that white boys could have helped T.J., they assume he robbed the store and attacked the shopkeeper and his wife with two other black boys. Just as T.J. is about to be lynched, Papa sets fire to his own land. Since the white and black people are all neighbors, everyone knows that if the fire spreads everyone's property will be damaged. They are forced to forget T.J. for the moment and stop the fire. Though T.J. goes to prison and no one knows if he will survive or not, Papa has averted the danger for the time being. However, he had to sacrifice his beloved land to do it.