The Land and Other Books

by Mildred D. Taylor

Page 1 of 3

Guide by Chris Crowe

ABOUT THE LOGAN FAMILY SAGA

All of Mildred D. Taylor's novels to date are based on stories from her own family, stories she learned at family gatherings throughout her life. In her Author's Note in The Land, she explains that her great-grandfather was the basis for the character Paul-Edward:

"In writing The Land, I have followed closely the stories told by my father and others about my great-grandparents. From as far back as I can remember, I had heard stories about my great-grandfather, who bought the family land in Mississippi. Born the children of an African-Indian woman and a white plantation owner during slavery, my great-grandfather and his sister were brought up by both their parents. Their father had three sons by a white wife, and he acknowledged all of his children. He taught his children to read and write, and he ordered his white sons to share their school learning with them. All the children sat at their father's table for meals, and my great-grandfather often went with his father and his brothers on their trips around the community." (The Land, 269)

Similarly, in her other novels, nearly all the events are based on stories Taylor has heard from her father and other family members; nearly all the characters are based on family members or acquaintances she has known or learned about. The Logan family saga, then, is essentially family history for Taylor. The saga begins with Paul-Edward Logan in The Land leaving his family in Georgia in the 1870s and eventually settling in Mississippi, where he buys The Land that will become the homestead for all the future Logans. The next part of the saga, The Well, is told by David Logan, one of Paul-Edward's sons. The third book of the saga, Mississippi Bridge, is the only book in the Logan stories not narrated by a member of the Logan family. A white boy, Jeremy Simms, reports a tragedy that he and the Logan children witness in 1931. The fourth book, Song of the Trees, is told from the point of view of a third-generation Logan, Cassie, who narrates the rest of the Logan stories: The Friendship; Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry; Let the Circle Be Unbroken; and The Road to Memphis.

The Logan stories closely follow the history of Taylor's own family, from her great-grandfather's purchase of land in Mississippi in the 1880s to their move to Ohio in the 1940s. The as-yet-untitled Logan, currently Taylor's last novel planned for the saga, will take Cassie and her brothers through World War II.

THE BOOKS OF MILDRED D. TAYLOR

Song of the Trees (1975)
This novella is based on an real incident that occurred on Taylor family land in Mississippi during the Depression.

Narrated by eight-year-old Cassie Logan, this story begins while Cassie's father is away working for the railroad in Louisiana. Mr. Andersen, a white man, uses the Logan's desperate financial situation to coerce Big Ma Logan to allow him to cut as many trees as he thinks fit for $65. The children discover that Mr. Andersen plans to cut down all the trees, and when they tell their mother, she sends Stacey on horseback to bring their father, David Logan, home as soon as possible. When David returns, he and Stacey wire dynamite charges throughout the forest, and in a suicidal showdown with Andersen and his cutting crew, David threatens to blow up the entire forest and everyone in it, if Andersen doesn't immediately stop cutting trees. With the plunger in hand, David stands up to Andersen, who at first thinks David is just bluffing. Andersen finally backs off, leaving the felled trees on the ground. Cassie mourns the destruction of her forest and at the end of the story hears her father call out softly, "Dear, dear old trees, will you ever sing again?" (52)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976)
This Newbery Award-winning novel is based on the story told by Taylor's father of an African-American boy who, with two white boys, broke into a local store and, during the robbery, killed the store owner. The African-American boy was accused of the murder, and his two white "friends" were a part of the lynch mob that came after him.

Set in Mississippi in 1933, the novel reports a year's worth of events that involve the Logans and their community. The Logan childrenStacey, Cassie, Christopher-John, and Little Manwalk several miles along dirt farm roads to attend elementary school. Most mornings, they are run off the road by the school bus carrying white children to their school. Tensions are high in Great Faith, Mississippi: marauding white "night men" have recently burned three men from the Berry family because one of them had allegedly leered at a white woman. This is just one of many racial incidents in the book, and in protest to the oppression and discrimination by the local whites, the Logans organize a boycott of the Wallace Store. Unfortunately, the boycott only makes racial tensions worse. There are problems at the school as well: Mary Logan loses her teaching job, and the loss of income puts the Logan land at risk. Cassie faces problems of her own, including Lillian Jean Simms, a racist white girl a few years older than she. The main conflict of the novel is tied to T.J. Avery, a trouble-making friend of Stacey's who becomes involved with two older white boys, Melvin and R. W. Simms. The personal and community conflicts in the novel reveal the Logans' strengthslove, courage, and unityand ultimately bring the family closer together.

Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981)
This novel combines Taylor's family history with U.S. history of the 1930s.

This is Taylor's longest novel, and it has several subplots. The first three chapters feature the trial of T.J. Avery. Despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence and Mr. Jamison's attempts to have T.J. acquitted, he is convicted by an all-white jury. Later in the novel, Cassie witnesses the various ways in which Jim Crow laws affect African-Americans. When labor-organizer Morris Wheeler attempts to protect the rights of the poor African-American farmers, the wealthy white farmers incite violence. When the Logans' Cousin Bud and his mixed-race daughter, Suzella, come to visit, local white boys harass them both. When Lee Annie Lees tries to register to vote, every one of her honest and legal attempts is thwarted by the white bureaucracy. When the family's financial situation puts their land at risk, Stacey signs on with a cane cutting crew and nearly dies in abusive indentured servitude. Once again, the Logans' unity, courage, and love help them survive these various crises.

Gold Cadillac (1987)
This novella is based on Taylor's recollection of a family trip from Ohio to Mississippi in the early 1950s.

This appears to be the only book that is not about the Logan family, but Taylor considers it a part of the Logan saga. The family in The Gold Cadillac, she says, is the same family described in the other Logan stories, but after they have moved North. She decided to change their namesto names from her own familyto avoid confusion with her other stories.

Young 'lois narrates the story beginning with the day her father brings home a brand-new Cadillac. She and her sister are excited, but her mother is upset because she worries that 'lois' father has spent money that they were saving for a home in a better neighborhood. Her father decides to take the car on a trip to Mississippi, but his relatives discourage him, warning that it is "a mighty dangerous thing for a black man to drive an expensive car into the rural South." (67) The family makes the trip anyway, and along the way, the father is stopped and taken to the police station, leaving his wife and daughters waiting in the car, worrying whether he will return. He is back by morning and decides to leave his car with a cousin in Memphis and make the rest of their trip in a less conspicuous borrowed car. For 'lois, the entire trip becomes an education in the ugliness of racism.

The Friendship (1987)
This short novel is based on a story that Taylor's father shared with her a few years before his death.

Cassie and her brothers witness a conflict between a white man, John Wallace, and an old man and family friend, Mr. Tom Bee. Years earlier, Bee had twice saved Wallace's life. To show his gratitude, Wallace told Bee that, rather than follow the Southern practice that requires African-Americans to address whites by Mister or Miss, he may always address Wallace by his first name. One morning when the Logan children are near the Wallace Store, Mr. Tom Bee enters the store and calls John Wallace "John" instead of "Mr. Wallace." This "disrespect" infuriates Wallace's sons and Charlie Simms, and they badger John Wallace into taking "appropriate" action. After warning Bee to stop calling him by his first name, John Wallace shoots him, explaining immediately afterward, "this here disrespectin' me gotta stop and I means to stop it now. You gotta keep in mind you ain't nothing but a nigger. You gonna learn to watch yo' mouth. You gonna learn to address me proper. You hear me, Tom?" (45) Even lying on the road, his leg blown open by the shotgun blast, Mr. Tom Bee ignores Wallace's orders and continues to address him as John. Horrified, Cassie and the Logan children wait for the second shotgun blast to end Mr. Tom Bee's life, but it never comes.

Mississippi Bridge (1990)
In the book's dedication, Taylor states that this novella also comes from one of her father's stories.

Mississippi Bridge is narrated by ten-year-old Jeremy Simms, the enigmatic white friend of the Logan children. One rainy spring day, two black women, Rudine Johnson and her mother, come to the Wallace Store to wait for the bus to Jackson. While waiting, they endure racist treatment from Mr. Wallace and other white men. A few minutes later, a white woman, Miz Hattie McElroy, and her young granddaughter arrive and are treated courteously by the white men. Later they're joined by Josias Williams, a young black man, and Big Ma Logan to wait for the bus. When the crowded bus arrives, they all find seats, with the blacks taking seats in the rear. Before the bus leaves, a large white family shows up and wants to board, so the bus driver forces the black passengers to give up their seats. When the overcrowded bus is midway across the Rosa Lee Creek bridge, the bridge collapses and the bus falls into the raging creek water. Josias and Jeremy are immediately on the scene, and Josias does everything he can to rescue people trapped in the bus, but many people drown, including Miz Hattie and her granddaughter.

The Road to Memphis (1990)
The novel's main action is triggered by a racist incident in Strawberry.

When Cassie and Stacey Logan and their friends, Little Willie, Moe, and Clarence, stop at a local garage to repair a tire, Moe is harassed by three white brothers. He loses his temper and severely beats all three young men with a tire iron. Jeremy Simms helps Moe escape Strawberry and certain lynching, and drives him to Jackson to meet Stacey, Cassie, Little Willie, and Clarence. Moe's friends realize that Moe isn't safe anywhere in the South and decide to drive through the night to Memphis, where they will put him on a train to Chicago. The trip to Memphis is filled with dangerous situations, and the headaches that Clarence has been complaining about get so bad that the group has to leave Clarence with a healing woman on The Road to Memphis. Eventually they get to Memphis and put Moe on a train to Chicago. While Stacey, Cassie, and Little Willie are in Memphis, Clarence dies from a brain hemorrhage, so the three friends return home grieving over the loss of two of their good friends: Clarence dead and Moe in exile in the North. Back in Strawberry, in the presence of the sheriff, his father, and his racist cousins, Jeremy Simms confesses that he helped Moe escape, and Charlie Simms beats Jeremy and then disowns him. The novel concludes with a bittersweet reunion at the Logan home, interrupted by Jeremy, who has come to say good-bye to the Logans before he enlists in the military.

The Well (1995)
This story, narrated by young David Logan, tells of a hot, dry summer when all the wells except for the Logans' have dried up.

The Logans willingly share their water with all their neighborsblack and white, even with the hateful and ungrateful Simms family. Hammer Logan's temper gets him into a fight with Charlie Simms. Both Hammer and David must work the entire summer on the Simms' farm, for free, to pay for Hammer's crime of hitting a white person. A week after they complete their work, they return to the Simms' farm, and Hammer knocks Charlie down again, this time daring him to tell Mr. Simms that Hammer did it alone. Charlie is furious about the beating and threatens revenge. A few days later, Charlie and his brother poison the Logans' well with the carcasses of possums, racoons, and skunks. The story ends when Mr. Simms finds out what his sons have done, and he punishes them publicly for their stupid act of revenge.

The Land (2001)
This story of Paul-Edward Logan is the prequel to the entire Logan saga.

The novel is divided into two main parts: "Childhood" and "Manhood." It concludes with "Legacy," a short epilogue. "Childhood" focuses on Paul-Edward from ages nine to fourteen, while he's living on his father's plantation in Georgia. While he is young, Paul-Edward has a relatively good life. His father treats him as an equal to his white sons, and Paul-Edward grows accustomed to the treatment. The only irritant in his life at this time is Mitchell Thomas, son of the plantation's horse trainer, who loves to torment young Paul-Edward. Paul-Edward gradually learns that Mitchell resents Paul-Edward's life of privilege, and in order to end the regular beatings he receives from Mitchell, Paul-Edward offers to teach Mitchell to read and write in exchange for Mitchell teaching him to fight. This begins a friendship that will last throughout their lives. As Paul-Edward gets older, his father begins to teach him that although he is light-skinned, as a mixed-race boy he is considered in the South to be colored and is therefore subject to the abusive treatment by whites and white society. Paul-Edward resents these lessons and begins to resent his father as well. When Paul-Edward is fourteen, he and Mitchell accompany Paul-Edward's father to a horse show in East Texas, where Paul-Edward violates his father's orders to stay away from a wild horse. Paul-Edward and Mitchell then run away, taking itinerant jobs in turpentine and lumber camps. "Manhood" begins about ten years later, with Paul-Edward and Mitchell still working in lumber camps. Paul-Edward's yearning for land of his own leads him to leave the lumber camp and find work in Vicksburg, a town near some beautiful land that he covets. After a year of carpentry work, Paul-Edward makes a deal with Fillmore Granger to acquire forty acres of land. Mitchell comes to live and work with Paul-Edward clearing The Land, and marries Caroline Perry. After nearly two years of hard work, Mitchell is murdered by Digger Wallace, leaving a pregnant Caroline behind to finish the work he and Paul-Edward agreed to do for Fillmore Granger. As the work is nearly completed, Granger reneges on his deal and evicts Paul-Edward from The Land, leaving Paul-Edward despairing that he will never own land. When it appears that all is lost, Paul-Edward receives help from his Georgia family and is able to purchase his dream land from a Northerner who has agreed to sell it to him. Soon after he has the deed, he marries Caroline and they settle on his new land. The novel concludes with "Legacy," a brief epilogue where Paul-Edward brings readers up-to-date on events that happened in the years after he bought his land and with his reconciliation with his father back in Georgia.

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