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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Books Pop Culture

Make a point to read these 5 banned books

Banned Books Week is a movement  aimed to celebrate the freedom to read books that have been banned or challenged in academia. You may or may not be surprised that the list includes classics that many hold near and dear.

Interestingly enough, quite a few of these frequently challenged books are written by minorities. Here are 5 incredibly famous books by minority women that have made the list.

1. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi

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Marjane Satrapi is an Iranian-born French graphic novelist. She was born and raised in Iran and experienced many of the socialist and communist movements prior and following the Iranian Revolution. Her graphic novel, Perspolis, is banned for having a “political viewpoint.”

It’s also cited for being “politically, racially, and socially offensive.” Psh.

2. The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison


African-American novelist, Nobel-Prize winner, and Pulitzer-prize winner. Toni Morrison is definitely a triple-threat. So is, apparently, her novel. The Bluest Eye delves into racism in America during the Great Depression. It’s frequently challenged for containing “containing controversial issues.”

3. The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

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Sandra Cisneros is an American author of Mexican descent. Her book, The House on Mango Street, is widely read in literature classes (I read it myself as a sophomore in high school). It was banned in Arizona for allegedly promoting an overthrow of the government.

Um, no. The major themes in the book include struggling with identity, friendship, and loneliness. So…normal stuff that everyone deals with.

4. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor

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Mildred D. Taylor is an African-American woman with a Newbury Medal under her belt. Her novel, Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry tells a raw tale of racial segregation in the Deep South. It’s one of the most frequently challenged novels of the 21st century, with the primary reason being offensive language.

The main character, a punchy nine-year-old girl, doesn’t hold back her tongue. Honestly, though, the language is simply a part of American history.

5. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

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The late but dearly beloved Maya Angelou’s autobiography has been named by TIME Magazine as one of the best and most influential books of all time. Angelou has won countless awards, one of them being the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

How did such a popular book land on the banned list?

It seems that exploring identity, racism, and literacy is simply too much for the public to handle.