History Historical Badasses

How Mildred D. Taylor’s stories can teach us how to be hopeful throughout hardships

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When I was in seventh grade, my English class was assigned to read a book titled Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor. I can’t remember the exact moment I learned about racism in school, but reading this book was an eye-opener. To this day, I can still recall two vivid scenes from the book: Cassie Logan describing the worn-out textbooks meant for Black students and her Papa’s leg being crushed by a wagon during a racist ambush.

Mildred D. Taylor began writing about the Logan family in 1975 with her first novella, Song of the Trees. Her historical works are about the hardships faced by African-American families living in the Deep South. Taylor was not the first author to narrate such moving stories. Yet, to me, she stood out for the sense of hope and resilience she breathes into her characters.

Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, but moved north with her family when she was just three months old. Despite not having a Southern upbringing, she insisted that the region held pleasant memories for her as her family’s home. They eventually settled in Toledo, Ohio as her father did not want her and her sister to grow up in the racially segregated society of the South that he lived in. When Taylor started school, she was the only black child in her class. Yearly trips to Mississippi and firsthand stories from family gatherings helped her become familiar with the South. Taylor would eventually use some of the stories for her novels.

Taylor attended the University of Toledo where she majored in English and minored in History. By age 19, she had written her first novel, Dark People, Dark World. Sadly, due to revision disagreements with a publisher, the novel was never published. After graduation, Taylor joined the Peace Corps and taught in Arizona and Ethiopia. She then attended the University of Colorado School of Journalism, where she worked with university officials and fellow students to curate a Black Studies program. It’s inspiring how Taylor maintained the respect from her roots and encouraged for others to do the same in education.

In addition to all those accomplishments, Taylor kept writing. In 1973, Taylor entered a contest funded by the Council on Interracial Books for Children. “I tried writing [a story] from a boy’s point of view because the story was based on my father’s life, but that didn’t work,” Taylor said in a 2006 interview with the American Library Association. “So I decided to retell it from the girl’s point of view. It won that honor and got my foot in the door.”

The story was eventually published as Song of the Trees, and won first prize in the contest’s African-American category. It was also listed as an outstanding book of the year in the New York Times.

In 1977, she also won the Newberry Medal for the sequel to Song of the Trees, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and several other literary recognitions.

“I wanted to show a different kind of black world from the one so often seen,” she said of her characters, the Logan family. “[Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry] will always be the most special book I have written.”

Black stories are often heavily centered around trauma. There’s a common assumption that Blacknes and suffering go hand in hand. While the Logans are a disadvantaged family, what we learn from them is their ability to make the most out of situations. Cassie and her brothers are a strong unit who have a solid relationship with their parents and appreciate who they are surrounded by. If anything, Taylor has shown us the importance of family dynamics in the face of constant trauma.

In an interview with The Brown Bookshelf, Taylor commented on the backlash of parents who felt her work was too painful for children to read. “As much as it hurts me to write words of pain, I know that they must be written, for they are truthful words about the time I write,” she said.

Sometimes, even if it can be uncomfortable, writing about pain is necessary. It can help others become more attentive to voices that are often silenced. What I find heartbreakingly relatable is that the Logan children instantly learned that they were living in a different world than their white peers. How Taylor writes about pain from Cassie’s perspective lets readers know that children are never too young to start understanding the world around them.

In the same interview, Taylor discussed receiving letters from students like myself who read her books as required reading. The students, however, said the books weren’t just about history. Rather, they are about the values they wished were more a part of their world today.

In Taylor’s words, “[It] is so uplifting to find there are still those who read my books and not only feel a greater understanding about our past, but feel the relevancy of that past to apply to the great turmoil of today’s world.”

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Gender & Identity Life

16 things you do as a Southern Belle of Color

When people think of a Southern belle, they imagine a blonde-haired, blue-eyed damsel in distress. For us Southern WOC, we’re often left out from the Belle narrative. Yet, we’re still proud of our ethnic and religious identities and embrace the good aspects of our region. Southern WOC are a diverse group, but it’s nice to appreciate the things that unite us. Whether you hail from Texas or Tennessee, Alabama or West Virginia, here’s a few things that your Southern heart knows to be true.

1. You say things like “ya’ll,” “bless your heart,” and “fixin’ to.”


Enough said.

2. Tailgating is life, but you stay woke on the NFL’s issues on sexism, racism, and homophobia.


Tailgates are an extension of your social scene. However, you’re mindful of the NFL’s systemic issues on racism, sexism, and homophobia. If you’re a woke Southern Belle of Color, you’d rather spend $100 buying food for a tailgate than spend $1 on football tickets for an NFL game. You support your local femme-run catering businesses and NOT the billionaire, Trump-supporting owners of the NFL.

3. If the weather is above 70°F, there will be sandals on your feet.


Whether they are Birkenstock’s, Chaco’s, Jack Rogers’, or the 95 cent neon orange flip flops from Old Navy, you’ve got sandals on your feet. For most Southern states, the weather is cold three months out of the entire year. Thus, sandals and flip flops are a staple in every southern girl’s wardrobe. Bonus points if your sandals ripped during the most inconvenient of times, like unexpected heavy rain, a football game, or in the middle of the work day.

4. Argue with white people over Confederate monuments, race, slavery, etc.


It’s not your job to educate May Ellen and Bobby Kay (and even fellow POC) about the nuances of race, class, and gender. Yet sometimes, you just get the urge to call out a Confederate sympathizer. Maybe you’ve even gotten the urge to slap somebody for the hateful and ignorant things they spew. It’s okay; we’ve all been there. Southern Belles of color keep it moving and we don’t let bigots keep us from ~shining~

5. Two words:  BIG HAIR


The bigger the hair, the closer to heaven, right? A Southern woman’s prized possession is her hair. We spend hours putting in oils, lotions, serums, masks, and conditioners to make sure our locks are on point. Yet somehow, we make it look easy. Our effortless beauty is a hallmark and we embrace it to the fullest.

6.  Are you even drinking a canned beverage if it’s not in one of these?


Whether you call them koozies, drink insulators, or “that foam thing for your drink,” you probably have a few of these by accident or are building a collection. For me, they pop out of nowhere and keep accumulating in my kitchen drawers. But whether you have them by chance or just love to collect them, you can’t go to an outdoor event in the South without seeing at least five of them.

7. Monogram. On everything.


Because everyone needs to know your initials. Also, bonus points if your monograms incorporate Lilly Pulitzer prints.

8. Constantly being surrounded by guns.


It’s not a secret people like guns in the South. You may have even gone to a restaurant or church and saw somebody bring their gun inside. The way some people show off their rifles, AK’s, and uzi’s can be unnerving. That’s why you have no-go list of neighborhoods, streets, and cities where you feel unsafe as a WOC.

9. Own at least one Lilly Pulitzer, Kate Spade, or any other brand of bright printed dress.

Lilly Pulitzer

The vivid colors and prints look amazing on your melanated skin and they’re just cute! If you were a Southern girl on a budget and couldn’t get a Lilly dress, then Rainbow and the Walmart store brand were your next best bet. #notashamed

10. Own at least one big, floppy hat.


The sun is 2489794379 times hotter and brighter in the South, so you need all the UV protection you can get. A Southern woman’s hat is a reflection of her personality. Bold, colorful, or modest: it’s your decision on what mood you want to convey through your floppy hat. Bonus points if your hat has your initials monogrammed on it.

11. Appreciation for your state’s signature food (and seasoning said food generously).


Whether it’s barbecue, cornbread, fried Twinkies, jambalaya, rice and beans, or just good old-fashioned collard greens, you love your region’s food. Also, a bona fide Southern WOC foodie knows that the best food is found at the ugliest, most beat down restaurants.

12. Accept that your body will always be covered in sweat.


Oh baby, let’s not even get started. A good summer morning is one spent in an air-conditioned room  Netflix binging.

13. “I’ll pray on that.”


For Muslim Southern Belles of Color, it’s usually an “inshallah.” You usually hear this after you ask your momma for something and she doesn’t want to give an outright “no.” Religion and Southern living are as entangled as kittens playing in yarn. You’ll even find yourself saying “I’ll pray for that,” even if you’re not religious.

14. Spend hours on your hair only to watch it frizz up into oblivion within five minutes of stepping outside.


The majority of the Southeastern United States is a humid mess. With global warming destroying the climate balance, it’s just going to get even worse from here on out. You can bet your boots I will be armed with a bottle of hairspray.

15. But when the weather is amazing, you’ll soak up the sun.


Whether it’s a walk in the woods or a full-blown beach weekend with your best friends, a Southern Belle of Color will always talk time for nature-inspired self-care.

16. “You’re not like other *insert minority group here* girls”


You will always get really close to slapping the person who said it to you. If a Southern Belle of Color had a dollar for every time somebody said that to her, she’d have enough money to buy the entire state of Alabama.