Coming of Age in Mississippi
Coming of Age in Mississippi is a study guide by Anne Moody, published in 1968. Moody is an African-American civil rights activist who left her home town and family determined to take part in protests and sit-ins in America's turbulent South in the 1960s.
In this now classic autobiography, she details the sights, smells, and suffering of growing up in a racist society and candidily reveals the soul of a black girl who had the courage to challenge it.
This autobiography tells the life of Anne (Essie Mae) Moody, who was born in 1940, near Centerville, Mississippi. The first part of the book describes how her family was one of many Negro farming families struggling to survive on low wages. Anne and her siblings are looked after by their abusive uncle. The strain over money creates conflict between her parents, and her father has an affair which results in the birth of Anne’s half-brother. Her father abandons his first family, who move about quite a bit. Anne’s mother has a relationship with a soldier and gives birth to another of Anne’s half-brothers. When Anne is 10, she gets her first job, which is soon followed by a string of jobs that include domestic work and babysitting. Her little income doesn’t protect herself or the family from remaining in poverty.
The second part of the book covers the time that Anne is in high school. This covers the lynching of a black boy in the town, a moment that will stay with Anne for many years. Ultimately, the death and the behavior of some of her employers will cause Anne’s desire to leave town. After learning about the NAACP, Anne is more determined. She keeps busy in high school, both playing sports and working, in order to stay away from her family and the conflicts there. These conflicts increase the more that Anne is away from the family – her perception of the world and her desire to expand her horizons have caused a rift between herself and the people – including her family – of Centreville. She eventually leaves home to go and live with her father and his wife.
After high school, Anne gets a basketball scholarship to Natchez College. She spends two years there and is able to make a name for herself by standing up for students’ rights. The administration helps her get a scholarship at Tougaloo College, a much better school. It is at this school that she joins the NAACP and begins attending rallies.
The last section of the book details Anne’s work in the Civil Rights Movement. She becomes a spokesperson dedicated to challenging both white and black assumptions, and spends much of her time pushing along her fellow African Americans to get more involved in change. She participates in sit-ins, some of which get violent. She works with activists to challenge politicians and participates in many demonstrations. She eventually joins an activist group called CORE, which works at encouraging black voter turnout. The Klan begins to interfere with the work she and CORE are attempting, causing frustration and disheartening Anne. Still, she goes with Reverend King to Washington and hears the “I Have a Dream” speech. She also begins advocating for poverty assistance for the black communities. She herself ends up on a Klan list, which is when she takes a break from her activism. When President Kennedy is shot, though, she returns to the movement. The book ends with her remaining in the fight, but wondering if her work has had any real impact on the lives of African Americans.
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