"From as far back as I can remember my father taught me a different history from the one I learned in school. By the fireside in our Ohio home and in Mississippi, where I was born and where my father's family had lived since the days of slavery, I had heard about our past. It was not an organized history beginning in a certain year, but one told through stories about great-grandparents and aunts and uncles and others that stretched back through the years of slavery and beyond. It was a history of ordinary people. Some brave, some not so brave, but basically people who had done nothing more spectacular than survive in a society designed for their destruction. Some of the stories my father had learned from his parents and grandparents as they had learned from theirs; others he told first-hand, having been involved in the incidents himself. There was often humor in his stories, sometimes pathos, and frequently tragedy; but always the people were graced with a simple
dignity that elevated them from the ordinary to the heroic.
Mildred D. Taylor
About Mildred D. Taylor
An Interview with Mildred D. Taylor
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"Those colorful vignettes stirred the romantic in me. I was fascinated by the stories, not only because of what they said or because they were about my family, but because of the manner in which my father told them. I began to imagine myself as storyteller, making people laugh at their own human foibles or nod their heads with pride about some stunning feat of heroism. But I was a shy and quiet child, so I turned to creating stories for myself instead, carving elaborate daydreams in my mind.
"I do not know how old I was when the daydreams became more than that, and I decided to write them down, but by the time I entered high school, I was confident that I would one day be a writer. I still wonder at myself for feeling so confident since I had never particularly liked to write, nor was I exceptionally good at it. But once I had made up my mind to write, I had no doubts about doing it. It was just something that would one day be. I had always been taught that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. Still a number of years were to lapse before this setting of my mind actually resulted in the publication of any of my stories.
"In those intervening years spent studying, traveling, and living in Africa, and working with the Black student movement, I would find myself turning again and again to the stories I had heard in my childhood. One story in particular kept nagging at me, a story my father had once told me
about the cutting of some beloved trees on our family land. I attempted to write it from the grandmother's point of view without success. Gradually as I struggled, new twists to the story began to emerge. At last I decided to tell it through the eyes of Cassie Logan, a spirited eight year old.
"In Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (Dial 1976), I included the teachings of my own childhood, the values and principles by which I and so many other Black children were reared, for I wanted to show a different kind of Black world from the one so often seen. I wanted to show a family united in love and self-respect, and parents, strong and sensitive, attempting to guide their children successfully, without harming their spirits, through the hazardous maze of living in a discriminatory society.
"I also wanted to show the Black person as heroic. In my own school days, a class devoted to the history of Black people in the United States always caused me painful embarrassment. This would not have been so if that history had been presented truly, showing the accomplishments of the Black race both in Africa and in this hemisphere. But as it was, the indictment of slavery was also an indictment of the people who were enslaved a people who, according to the texts, were docile and childlike, accepting their fate without once attempting to free themselves. To me, this lackluster history of Black people totally devoid of any heroic or pride-building qualities, was as much a condemnation of myself as it was of my ancestors. I used to sit tensely waiting out those class hours trying to think of ways to repudiate what the textbooks said, for I recognized that there was a terrible contradiction between what was in them and what I learned at home.
"It is my hope that to the children who read my books, the Logans will provide those heroes missing from the schoolbooks of my childhood, Black men, women, and children of whom they can be proud."
Mildred D. Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up in Toledo, Ohio. After graduating from the University of Toledo, she spent two years in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps
teaching English and history. As a member of the Black Student Alliance, at the University of Colorado, she worked with students and university officials in structuring a Black Studies program at the university. Upon receiving her master's degree, she worked in the Black Education Program as study skills coordinator. She currently lives in Colorado.
copyright ? 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.
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