Monday, February 27, 2006

Coming of Age in Mississippi

Anne Moody wrote Coming of Age in Mississippi only shortly after she left public life. Few people know of Anne Moody or her contributions to American history, but her story is one that it is worth remembering. She grew up in a small town outside of Natchez, Mississippi. The daughter of sharecroppers, Anne also had a father who became absent early in her life. Moody, along with a growing brood of younger siblings, watched their mother work job after job in the 1950s South to try to raise her African American children to be proud of themselves.

Anne was able to go to college, which was a huge step for the Moody family. She would be the first one in her family to have a college education, and she was very proud of that. When Anne went to college, she knew of the burgeoning civil rights talk in the South, and she had heard of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). Still she did not believe that she would get involved until she finally agreed to go with a friend to a meeting.

Anne became enthralled with what she saw as very important work. She was drawn to the cause of the struggle for the African American vote because she had begun to see how much her mother and the rest of her family had struggled. Anne worked with the NAACP and eventually the Congress on Racial Equality. CORE was a lesser-known group that was instrumental in bringing civil rights to the Jim Crow South.

Moody is part of the civil rights movement through her memoirs as well as through a photograph of her at a lunch counter sit-in. even after the Supreme Court struck down segregation in places that participated in interstate commerce, which essentially meant every business in the land, the owners of lunch counters still would not permit African Americans to eat at the counter. Groups of students would go into the diners and sit at the counters until they received service or were arrested. Anne was arrested for her work and carried out of the lunch counter after being tormented by the other customers.

Anne eventually left school for the summer and lived in what was called a Freedom House. These houses were ones that CORE and other groups had leased. They ran their operations out of the house. Although the groups officially worked to bring the vote to Southern blacks, they did much more in reality. They helped children have a place to go after school, and they worked to bring school supplies and food to families in need.

The work that Anne did with civil rights estranged her from her family. Her mother wrote to her while she was at the Freedom House to explain that her uncle had been killed. He was killed because the local white power elite, most of whom were in the Ku Klux Klan, believed that Anne was involved in civil rights work. Her own mother refused to have anything to do with her. Although it angered Anne that her mother could continue to take such treatment, she understood that her mother had to protect her other children.

Anne attended many of the major events of the civil rights era, such as the March on Washington where the Reverend Martin Luther King gave his famed I Have a Dream speech. Anne was one of the people in the audience at other great events, and she is one of the unsung heroes of the civil rights movement. Her work helped pave the way for the many generations of African Americans who came after her.

Moody left college and went to New Orleans to stay. She had become exhausted from her work and needed to get her health in order. After that, she disappeared. Today, it is rumored that Moody lives in New York and that she occasionally helps with New Black Panther Party events. Still she has kept a low profile, like many of the people who were involved in the civil rights movement. Moody wrote in her memoirs that she felt she had served the cause well and that she needed to rest. Indeed she did.

By Julia Mercer

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