Cassie and her brothers, Stacey, Christopher-John, and Little Man, are walking to school on the first day of the school year, dressed in their Sunday best. T.J. joins them, and tells them about how a man named Berry was nearly burned to death by white men the previous night. T.J. also tells how he avoided trouble by blaming it on his little brother, Claude. For this, the Logan children grow angry with him. A school bus filled with taunting white children speeds by, showering the children with red dust as it passes. Jeremy, a white boy who is often beaten for walking to school with and associating with the Logans, soon joins them. But as a group of white children including his sister runs past, he has to leave them, and head towards the Jefferson Davis County School, the white school, where the Mississippi state flag, with its confederate emblem, flies above the American flag.
The Logan children soon arrive at Great Faith Elementary and Secondary School. Cassie, a fourth grader, is not eager to please her teacher, Miss Crocker. She is assigned a seat in the first row. She and the other students are surprised to learn that this year they will have books. However, the books are very old and dirty; they are books no longer needed at the white school. This infuriates Little Man and Cassie, and they are both whipped for trying to refuse the books. After school, Cassie runs to tell the trouble to her Mama, who is a teacher in the seventh grade. But Miss Crocker is already there. Eavesdropping, Cassie hears her Mama agree with Miss Crocker that she should have punished her children for disobeying their teacher. At the same time, she takes white paper and glues it over the inside cover of the children's books, hiding the table that showed that the books used to be used by white students and were now issued to "nigras."
This first chapter introduces many of the primary characters of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry. Cassie and Little Man are two of the most important characters, and in this chapter we see their proud spirit. It is clear that the Logan parents have raised their children to have self-respect, regardless of their race. When Miss Crocker is about to whip Little Man, Cassie goes to his defense, showing the way the family sticks together. Cassie shows the teacher that the county school board has written "nigra" in the book, a term she finds offensive. But Miss Crocker replies that that is what Cassie is. Miss Crocker is complacent, but the Logan children are proud of their color and will not tolerate insults. This kind of behavior, in which you have to break school rules in order to stand up for a higher good, is often known as "civil disobedience." It is similar to what took place thirty years after the conclusion of the novel, in the civil rights movement.
This book is full of details that indicate the racism that the black citizens of Spokane County, Mississippi must endure. The bus incident not only shows that the White children enjoy seeing the black children covered with dust, it also emphasizes the fact that the black children have to walk to school. In fact, Cassie says, some children have to walk so far that they drop out of school. These children do not get an education because they do not have buses to take them to school. Another such detail is Cassie's description of Jefferson Davis County School. First, Jefferson Davis is the name of the President of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Furthermore, the Mississippi state flag carries the "stars and bars" in its upper left corner, symbolizing regret that the Civil War was lost and that slavery was made illegal. Clearly, the government of Mississippi is at least partly racist. This fact is underlined by the poor quality of the textbooks given to the black school.
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