I was recently captivated by Anne Moody’s autobiography Coming of Age in Mississippi. This book is perfect for those of us that love to read about American history, and have particular interest in learning more about the Civil Rights Movement; or just those of us that love to read autobiographies and memoirs.
Moody was born in 1940 in the rural town of Centerville, Mississippi and this book chronicles her life growing up during the 1940s and 1950s, which was a dangerous time marked by intense racial disputes between whites and African Americans and the beginnings of the Civil Rights Movement. Historically, this was also a critical time in history for non-white minorities, but also for women in general. Moody experienced first-hand the double jeopardy that is being black, and being a woman, and the dangers that follow the women who speak out.
Moody grew up in a racist society in which threats and terror killings were a common way for white people to try to scare the black community. Moody admits that she hated the white people for committing those acts, but she hated the black people just as much for seemingly doing nothing about it, which surprised me. She says that at fifteen years old she “began to look upon Negro men as cowards. I could not respect them for smiling in a white man’s face, addressing him as Mr. So-and-So, saying yessuh and nossuh when after they were home behind closed doors that same white man was a son of a bitch, a bastard, or any other name more suitable than mister” (Moody, 136). This makes sense, and for her to admit that sometimes she hated blacks just as much as she hated whites is kind of a huge deal. Moody was baffled by the fact that none of the blacks in her community would do anything even though they all felt the same. This in part is what inspired her to participate in organizations such as CORE and the NAACP when she reached college, even though her family forbid it. At Tougaloo College she was surrounded by more like-minded young people who were just as willing and ready as she was to stand up:
“…we, the civil rights organizations, were powerless when it came to trying to do something about the murders. Yet the United States could afford to maintain the Peace Corps to protect and assist the underprivileged of other countries while native-born American citizens were murdered and brutalized daily and nothing was done.”
–Anne Moody Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Moody participated in the famous Woolworth’s Sit-In on May 28th 1963 in Jackson, Mississippi (not to be confused with the sit-in that took place in Greensboro, NC in 1960) in which she and fellow classmates, students both black and white, were heckled and attacked by a mob of more than 300 white people as they sat at the lunch counter together. Although protests in the form of sit-ins like these were legal at the time, the response to Moody and her classmates was one of the most violent that has ever taken place. You may read a little more about this day here and to see a larger version of this iconic photo.
Despite the fact that she devoted all of her young adult life to fighting in the Civil Rights Movement, she could never shake the feeling that what she was doing wasn’t enough, and that it would never be enough:
“Since I had been part of the Movement, I had witnessed killing, stealing and adultery committed against Negroes by whites throughout the South. God didn’t seem to be punishing anyone for these acts. On the other hand, most of the Negroes in the South were humble, peace-loving, religious people. Yet they were the ones doing all the suffering, as if they themselves were responsible for the killing and the other acts committed against them. It seemed to me now that there must be two gods, many gods, or no god at all.”
-Anne Moody Coming of Age in Mississippi, p. 373
To say that Anne Moody was brave would be an understatement. The kind of willpower it took for her to continue participating in work with the NAACP, protests, and sit-ins, knowing that it would put a target on not just her back but the backs of her family and loved ones is rare. Moody is the epitome of a woman whose pride and courage were unfailing and whose spirit carried her forward to participate in something that she knew in her heart would be worth the fight. And it was, because she will not be forgotten.