Coming Of Age In Mississippi Review Essay

Summary:
Anne Moody in her memoir recounts growing up in the Jim Crow law south, as well as her involvement in the Civil Rights movement as a young adult.  She was one of the women at the famous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-in.  Here we get to see her first-hand thoughts and memories of the struggle growing up surrounded by institutionalized racism, as well as the difficulties in fighting it.

Discussion:
This project I am co-hosting with Amy truly seems to be flying by!  We are already on our fourth read.  I was excited that it was my turn to host the discussion, because memoirs are one of my favorite genres (as my followers know).  Plus this is a memoir set just before and during the Civil Rights era, which is a time period I must say I don’t know as much about as I should.  History classes in the US have a tendency to run out of time in the semester right around the end of WWII.

Throughout the book there is personal, anecdotal evidence of the statistics we read about in Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow.  The harsh life as sharecroppers produces anxiety and stress in the family structure.  Anne is left alone all day with an uncle who is only eight years old to watch her and who treats her badly because he resents being stuck with this responsibility.  Similarly, early in her life, Anne’s father and mother divorce.  The strain on the family of poverty is abundantly clear.

Similarly what we read about black women taking nowhere near enough time off of work to recover after pregnancy and birth is evident in Anne’s observations of her own mother:

She didn’t stop workin until a week before the baby was born, and she was out of work only three weeks. She went right back to the cafe.  (page 26)

Although Anne’s mother tried to stay out of serving in white homes as a maid, before long she ended up taking on that kind of work.  She and her children would generally live in a two-room shanty out back.  At first Anne didn’t notice the difference in privilege, until her mother brought home food for her children:

Sometimes Mama would bring us the white family’s leftovers. It was the best food I had ever eaten. That was when I discovered that white folks ate different from us.  (page 29)

Anne was clearly an intelligent child and picked up on the subtle situations going on around her.  Early on she remembers wondering about race and what makes someone white versus black, when there were some “high yellow” black people she knew who could easily pass for white.

Now I was more confused than before. If it wasn’t the straight hair and the white skin that made you white, then what was it?  (page 35)

In fact, this issue of levels of color in black communities impacted Anne’s early life a great deal.  Her mother’s second significant relationship was with a man from a “high yellow” family who didn’t want him with her because she was “too dark.”  Anne’s mother put up with Raymond trying to decide between her and another “high yellow” woman that his family did approve of for years.  Later when he does choose her, she must put up with the snobbery of his family who refused to even speak to her.  Anne cannot understand how black people can be so cruel to each other when the white people in Mississippi are cruel to them all.  It is evident that the racism and oppression of the South caused those oppressed to seek out others to oppress, and the easiest way to do so was to be prejudiced against those with a darker skin tone.  Anne is right that it’s sad and confusing, but it also seems to be a natural result of such an oppressive system.  It’s like we learned from The Book of Night Women: misery begets misery.

Before she is even in middle school, Anne has her first job working for a white woman.  She sweeps her porches in exchange for milk and a quarter.  This is when she starts contributing to the family economy.  It’s interesting how Anne never expresses any resentment about needing to contribute to keeping the family going at a young age.  She does not view it as her parents’ fault.  It is just the way it is, and she’ll do what it takes to help her family.

This is the part of the book where we truly see through the eyes of “the help.”  There are families that Anne works for her treat her like an equal, have her eat dinner with them, and encourage her to go to college.  Then there is the family that is an active member of “the guild” (aka the KKK) where Anne is constantly in terror that they are going to try to frame her for a false wrong-doing.  Anne shows many signs of constant stress during this time, both in her body (headaches and losing weight) and in her mind (feeling trapped).  Being stuck working for someone who you know is going around organizing the murder of people of your own skin tone purely for their skin tone must have been horribly traumatizing.

It is in high school when the activity of the KKK in her hometown ramps up that Anne starts to develop her fighting spirit that will carry her out of white people’s homes and into the Civil Rights movement.  She is angry and fed up with the system, with white people, but with black people too.

But I also hated Negroes. I hated them for not standing up and doing something about the murders. In fact, I think I had a stronger resentment toward Negroes for letting the whites kill them than toward the whites. Anyway, it was at this stage in my life that I began to look upon Negro men as cowards.  (page 136)

Anne’s passion for doing what is right in the face of terrible danger and pain is remarkable and admirable.  She would rather die fighting the system than live under the system.  She does not seem to realize it, but this is an unusual level of strength and courage.  It takes people like her to make change happen.  People like her become the leaders that get people to act in spite of their fear.  I understand her frustration, but her lack of understanding of other black people’s viewpoints can be a bit frustrating at times.

Her passion though does lead her to one of the historic black colleges, eventually, Tougaloo College.  Tougaloo was at the center of a lot of the Civil Rights movement in the south, and I found this part of the book totally fascinating.  It is here that Anne makes her first white friend, a fellow Civil Rights activist.  It is here that her famous sit-in at Woolworth’s is organized.

But something happened to me as I got more and more involved in the Movement. It no longer seemed important to prove anything. I had found something outside myself that gave meaning to my life.  (page 288)

Anne used her jobs in white people’s homes to get herself to college where she joined in the Civil Rights movement.  It is a truly inspirational tale.  One can’t help but wonder if the KKK household she worked in became aware of her significant achievements.  The woman who once washed their dishes and ironed their clothes entered into history books.  How anyone can find kitschy stories like The Help inspirational when there are real ones like Anne Moody’s is beyond me.

I was a bit surprised at the semi-dark ending, so I did a bit of googling and discovered that this book was first published in 1968, far before the drastic improvement in race relations in the United States.  Moody at the time had no idea how things were going to turn out.  It’s understandable she was feeling a bit down-trodden and wondering if anything good would ever happen.

I also learned through googling that this memoir ends before her involvement in the Black Power movement.  There are rumblings that she will join with them, though, because she starts stating that peaceful protest will get them nowhere when they are constantly met with violence.  I wish there was a follow-up memoir, but there is not, and Anne Moody has refused all media interview requests ever since the publication of this one.  I suppose I will simply have to read one of the many famous Black Power books to satisfy my curiosity.

Source: Public Library

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Discussion Questions:

  • How do you think poverty and racism impacted Anne’s mother’s two significant relationships with men?
  • Do you think those working in KKK households were at a greater physical risk than those working in regular white households?
  • Anne’s employer has her tutor her son in Algebra, because he is failing.  This would suggest that on some level the woman realized that black people are not inferior to white people.  Why do you think she was than so insistent on the dominance of white people and a member of the KKK?
  • What are your thoughts on the various southern whites in Anne’s life who actively helped her and protested and/or fought racism?  What do you think made them act against a system that they were raised in when others like them were defending it?
  • Anne ends the book waffling between peaceful protests and violent movement.  Which do you think ultimately would lead to a better end result?

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Categories: Book, Genre, memoir, Reading Project, ReviewTags: anne moody, black power, book, civil rights movement, coming of age in mississippi, essie-mae, kkk, Review, sit-in, the help, the real help reading project, tougaloo college, woolworth's sit-in

Anne Moody was born in Mississippi on September 15, 1940, in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. Coming of age in Mississippi focuses primarily on the experiences of racism and daily struggles from a child’s perspective to the hardships of being black during these times of racial inequality and despair. Aunt Moody’s life of struggle is definitely an inspiration to everybody seeking a change in their society because she was an active NAACP and CORE member and activist fighting against injustice. Her purpose in writing this book was to help people understand her life and the continuous discrimination and hardships that blacks had to face during these horrible times of racism.

Some are born with it and others have to earn it the hard way. This was exactly the way Anne Moody saw it. Even though she had to start working at an early age due to the fact that her father deserted her family and left them to support themselves by doing whatever they have to do to survive. Coming of age in Mississippi is filled with examples of the hatred that existed between blacks and whites in the 1960’s and 70’s not written by an individual simply analyzing the situation but by an individual exposed to racism first hand throughout her whole life and having to live with the fact that if you are black, you are less than white. Well, Anne Moody was always a rebel and did not agree with the thoughts that her mother had about the world, which are some reasons why she got involved in activities and movements trying to support and help the common black man.

The book Coming of Age in Mississippi is not in any way based on statistical data but just on the experiences and views of the oppressed. Statistical data in this case does not really matter nor does it influence the cause in any way because the hatred toward another being or racism cannot be classified into a category as statistic data but rather a feeling or brainwashing which is exactly why this book was so great in explaining and showing the amounts of hate and rejection that blacks faced during these times.

Aunt Moody depends primarily on the facts and experiences that are going on around her and that have been influencing her ever since she had to work for white people to support her family. As a child she developed questions that have to do with race such as to why white people are all in good financial standing and why Anne and her family have to live in famine. Her mother was no help toward this subject whatsoever because she was aware of the cause and that it is the way it is. Anne challenged that point of view because of her mother’s ignorance and disbelief that change is inevitable but that it can be achieved if organization and the powerful will are present.

This story is written in first person point of view as the author is telling the story about her life. Anne Moody clearly paints a picture of racial inequality in the South of the 1950’s and 60’s because she experienced it first hand. There is a huge difference in hearing about a problem and experiencing the problem first hand like Anne Moody did. Her choice of mythology is absolutely fabulous. As a matter of fact, had she used a different choice of writing, I would probably have not been as interested as I was. She tries to relate to the reader by painting pictures of the cruel injustice in the readers head and she achieves nothing but attention. The cruel and unjust life that Anne Moody leads during these times is somewhat similar to what every one of us goes trough on a daily basis. Such as fight for survival, the constant struggle to be better than the other, the racial discrimination that we still face today, etc.

It’s amazing how the reader can gather so much valuable information about injustice, the racial discrimination and the movements and resistance of blacks during these times of struggle by just Anne writing about her life and her experiences. Anne Moody had an exiting life and whatever she was doing; she was always in the middle of it. That is why the methodology that she is using is so extremely effective because racism cannot be analyzed it can only be experienced.

I do not think that Anne Moody is missing anything in particular in this book. It is very organized and flows very smooth. The way of writing clearly gets the message across and all my questions have been nicely and in a timely manner been answered as I proceeded to read the book. The only thing that I personally would have wanted to see more of is less family issues and more of the issues at hand which is racism. But then I thought about this and came to the conclusion that it is all tied together. For example, the unjust treatments, the lack of opportunity, the segregations such as the one that occurred in the movie theater and other actions and causes that make me realize and come to the conclusion, that it is all in fact tied together and that without the actual family evaluation and background, this book would not hit the spot as much as it did with it.

Anne Moody has somewhat of a weird way of defining the problems in the book. As I was reading the book it seemed to me as if she was not even trying to state the problems but rather identify the situation to the reader and so that the reader can make up his/her own mind about the situation. She does not get into the details of the problems until later in the book after she has joined the activist groups where she clearly identifies the problems, the causes and the effects. Anne Moody’s sympathies and antagonism are aimed at both individual groups. They are aimed at blacks and also on whites. She is furious about the white supremacy and the way that the blacks are mistreated yet she is also disappointed and shows a certain form of hostility towards blacks because of their lack of interest and perhaps their fears of change. She is somewhat of an individualistic rebel that does classify herself with neither whites nor blacks due to her mixed feelings about northern whites and doubts about the direction of black liberation.

The body of the book and the language of the book are not particularly written in any form that would identify them with a particular school of thought. The reason for this is that Anne Moody never thought of herself as a writer, but rather as a civil rights movement activist. The language of this book is not considered highly intellectual but is written for the main and if not sole purpose of showing the new generation how it was and what they could do to overcome this great discriminative society.

This book deals with one of the biggest issues of the century. It deals with primarily racism during the time of Anne Moody and the troubles and racist behavior that she was exposed to. I can relate this book to numerous experiences even in today’s world where supposedly racism has been overcome. It has not been extinguished, it has only been watered down so it is politically correct but the views and hate are unfortunately still the same.

This book relates to some of my past experiences in the United States about a certain time when I was pulled over in Sacramento for falling into a category of Russian’s that have been anonymously tipped to the police. Automatically after they have noticed that I have a little bit of accent, they proceeded to act it out as if I was the criminal himself, this is very similar to the writings of Anne Moody where she writes that all blacks are automatically segregated into a category where they are only able to do the things that were supposedly “destined” to do, such as slave labor, etc. The book Coming of Age in Mississippi deals a great deal with everything that one goes trough on a daily basis. Hate, mistrust, obligations to certain people, discrimination are just some of the things that Anne writes about that occurred during her time and that are also occurring in today’s world.

The story ends with Anne Moody being exhausted to death from rallying, protesting, marching, organizing that she was unsure of what she had accomplished. She had led a life before that where she ignored the fact that blacks were oppressed even though the thought always simmered in the back of her mind. She had lost everything including her materialistic objects and possessions and almost her health because of this fight for civil rights. The ending was really sad because people have sacrificed a lot for this cause like for example Mrs. Chinn and C.O, Moody and they have not even scratched the problem. The solution that Moody comes to is that she is aware of the fact that the white man controls everything and after her sitting on that bus heading for Washington and looking at little Gene, remembering how she was once just like him. She fought and fought and had not achieved anything and it bothered her because she was a person that accomplishes and survives and with Anne Moody being as smart, motivated, and with her fighter spirit soaring, this was a big task that she could not overcome and it bothered her, thinking if maybe she should give up the fight against the white man for the civil rights.

I agree with Moody where she to a certain degree loses her interest in everything and is trembling with fear deep down inside, not knowing what to do or where to go. She had dedicated her life to the cause of fighting and achieving human civil rights and she was exhausted. Moody says in her other book and this quote really got me thinking about racism even more is “…that we made a few visible little gains; yet at the root, things always remained the same; and that the movement was not in control of its destiny, nor did we have any means of gaining control of it. We were like an angry dog on a leash that had turned on its master. It could bark and howl and snap, and sometimes even bite, but the master was always in control.”

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