Mildred Taylor Shares Family Stories

Mildred Taylor writes from the experiences of her own life and the tales told by her loving relatives. Her stories have won many awards including the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. Mildred was born in Mississippi on September 14, 1943. The hatred and prejudice all around made her family decide to move north when she was just a few weeks old. In the North, there was less prejudice and better opportunities for the Taylor family.

Every summer the Taylors would drive south to visit their relatives. Mildred loved to be surrounded by all of her aunts, uncles, and cousins and play wonderful games until the cool evening breezes chased the stars over the woods and fields.

It wasn't until she was older that she began to notice all the little cruelties. Signs in public places separated white people from black people. White people talked down to her and her family as if they were unintelligent. The laws were set up to protect the way things were, and black people seldom received justice. Her book, The Gold Cadillac, has a lot of memories of those drives south bound into it.

Mildred began to realize that her family stories were more than amazing entertainment. These stories, especially the tales of her father, taught the family history of how a strong people survive in a world of discrimination. When she was 10 years old, her family moved to a newly-integrated town in Ohio where she was the only black child in her class. She knew people were watching her, and judging all black people by what she did.

She found this to be a hard burden to bear. She was angry when her classmates didn't believe her stories about her experiences in the South. They believed the books that told them that black people were happy before the Civil War and did not fight against injustice.

When Mildred Taylor was older, she wrote her own stories about black children growing up in Mississippi. She wrote about a whole family: Cassie, Christopher-John, Stacey, Little Man, Mama, Papa, and Big Mama. They lived in the countryside and got through the hard times of the Depression as best they could. When she was writing, she remembered her family stories: stories of hard work, determination, and pride and wove them into her books.

Cover to Song of the TreesHer first book, Song of the Trees, is based on a true family story. Cassie Logan is smart, brave, and her family loves her very much. Cassie's father, David, has gone to Louisiana to lay tracks for the railroad. Big Ma is pressured by Mr. Andersen to sell the ancient and beautiful trees that Cassie loves. What will happen when Cassie's father comes home and finds his land in ruins?

Cassie's story continues in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, and in The Friendship. In Mississippi Bridge Jeremy, Cassie's white friend, witnesses a frightening natural justice. The Well, David's Story comes from Cassie's father's boyhood in turn of the century Mississippi. The drought hurts black and white people, and the Logans are willing to share their well of sweet water with everyone, but others are not willing to be beholden to a black family.

As the Cassie Logan grows, so does the length of her books. Roll of Thunder..., a Newbery winner, is longer than Song of the Trees. Let the Circle Be Unbroken follows immediately after Roll of Thunder. The Road to Memphis takes place years later when Cassie is a senior in high school and dreams of being a lawyer, but things are never easy for the Logan family, and Jeremy, Cassie's friend, must make a final and painful decision.

Mildred Taylor's latest book in the Logan family cycle, The Land, takes place just after the Civil War, long before Cassie Logan is born. Paul-Edward Logan is the son of a white plantation owner and a slave woman. He is also Cassie's grandfather. He is caught between the two worlds of white and black, not really fitting in to either one. More than anything he wants to own his own land-- a very hard thing for a black man in the days of Reconstruction, but his strength will be a foundation the Logan family will build on in decades to come.

Perhaps your family has stories to share with you. Talk to your parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts and let their memories become your stories.

You can learn more about Mildred Taylor's inspiring life through our library's databases--Biography Resource Center and Literature Resource Center.