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Mildred D. Taylor - BIOGRAPHY

Mildred Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi on September 13, 1943 but grew up in Toledo, Ohio where her father had gone to find work. She attended the University of Toledo and spent two years in Ethiopia working with the Peace Corp. She then attended the University of Colorado where she received a Master’s degree in journalism and was active in the Black Student Alliance.

In addition to Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (first published in 1976), Taylor has written Song of the Trees which was named a New York Times Outstanding Book of the year 1975, Let the Circle Be Unbroken, The Road to Memphis and The Well. All five books continue the story of the Logan family. Roll of Thunder was produced as a three part television mini series in 1978. Let the Circle Be Unbroken, received a 1981 American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults award as well as a 1982 American Book Award nominee in the hardcover fiction category, and the winner of a Coretta Scott King Award in 1982. The Road to Memphis and her book The Gold Cadillac both received Christopher Awards.

Taylor derives much of her inspiration from stories told in her own family, stories often recited on trips to “the South” to visit her grandparents who had remained in Mississippi. The stories contradicted the information presented in the history books. Taylor says, “Those stories about the small and often dangerous triumphs of black people . . . about human pride and survival in a cruelly racist society were like nothing I read in the history books.

. . . There were no black heroes or heroines in those books; no beautiful black ladies, no handsome black men; no people filled with pride, strength, or endurance. . . [The books told] a history of a docile, subservient people happy with their fate who did little or nothing to shatter the chains that bound them, both before and after slavery. There was obviously a terrible contradiction between what the books said and what I had learned from my family."


These contradictions create the themes for Taylor’s books.

Her novels include:

Song of the Trees (1975)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976)
Let the Circle be Unbroken (1981)
The Gold Cadillac (1987)
The Friendship (1987)
Mississippi Bridge (1990)
The Road to Memphis (1990)
The Well: David's Story (1995)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry has received the following awards:

Notable Book Citation, American Library Association, 1976
National Book Award (finalist) Honor Book Citation
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 1977
Jane Addams Honor Citation, 1977
Newberry Medal, 1977
Buxtehuder Bulle Award, 1985


LITERARY / HISTORICAL INFORMATION

The story takes place in Mississippi in the early part of the Great Depression. It is long after the Civil War, but long before integration. The southern states had been permitted to practice a “separate but equal” policy which really had nothing equal about it. Whites and blacks were separated in every way-separate schools, separate churches, designated water fountains, specific places to stand or sit in a market place, and so forth. Blacks had been freed by the Civil War but many had no place to go accept back to the plantations they had left where they worked as tenant farmers. There they were at the mercy of the landlord who could take whatever percentage he wanted along with other fees.

The “night riders” of the story seem like echoes of the Ku Klux Klan in that they attacked without warning and with little or no provocation. Furthermore, Blacks had very few who would take up their cause, and those who did-like Mr. Jamison-were ridiculed and threatened by others in the community. White men could attack and kill Blacks and were never so much as questioned on it while a Black man could expect severe sentences for even being accused of something a white person did not like.

The Logan family is unusual in this context, for they own their land and thus are not dependent on the white landowners in the area. The land itself, however, is not sufficient to provide their living and the price of their primary crop, cotton, is controlled by those to whom they have to sell it. Thus Mr. Logan stays away from home for weeks at a time in order to work on the railroad.


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