“Coming of Age in Mississippi” is an account about Anne Moody’s personal evolution in a rural black environment of Mississippi. Her experiences symbolize the developments in the civil rights movement. Her personal characteristics and the historical events of the day provide an in-depth insight into how her experiences during her childhood played a role in framing her activism. She went through many negative experiences which prepared her to become a civil rights activist. As a young impoverished black girl in a rural setting that presented harsh realities, she loses her social innocence and this becomes her transition to an active involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. This paper explores the violent and economic experiences that shaped the world view and decisions of a young black woman growing up in rural Mississippi.
“Coming of Age in Mississippi” is a transition of an average black girl from adolescence to adulthood, covering a span of nineteen years. Whereas this transition is mainly associated with sexual maturity, that of Moody was mainly mental growth, from being part of a problem in the center of a racist society, to being a solution to cure such ills. The blacks in Mississippi at that time faced a huge disparity in social justice and economic status. This framed her to desire and fight for equality. Her coming of age was defined at the age of 15, when she decided to stop "pretending to be dumb and innocent". During her teenage years is when she transited from an impoverished child to an earnest social activist. Being always on the receiving end, she decided to become part of the solution when she witnessed innocent deaths especially when the entire Taplin family got burned in another racist attack. She states that, "Those screams, those faces, that smoke, would never leave me" (Moody, 147).
Arbitrary racial distinctions are clearly brought out in “Coming of Age in Mississippi”. It was publicly argued and generally agreed during Moody’s childhood that blacks were genetically inferior to whites. Over time, she got frustrated by the fact that blacks were willing to accept injustice. Despite being black themselves, most blacks would play an active role in perpetuating the racial inequalities. The prejudice was not just of whites against the blacks, but also of people with money against poorer people, and the lighter-skinned blacks toward darker-skinned blacks (Payne, 1120). This is depicted when she gets skeptical of joining Tougaloo College just because it has too many students who are black but light-skinned. However, it was there that she began her involvement in the civil rights movement.
There is an outstanding relation between Anne Moody and other well-known civil rights activists. Leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and W. E. B. Dubois were either from the middle-class or wealthy. However, Moody was not and she is unique in that she acted as a direct voice of the most oppressed blacks in the rural areas. She also suffered as a minority black for so long and it was the social interaction of the races during her growing up that made her question the justice in the way her people were being treated. She believed that Martin Luther King, Jr. and most other leaders of the civil rights movement relied upon largely ineffective rallies and nonviolent demonstrations too heavily. Her life as a civil rights activist was defined when she began to make decisions and set a string of events that would liberate herself and her people. She became one of the many heroic voices of the civil rights movement following her reaction to specific experiences she went through. Thanks to a supportive group of people at Tougaloo University who also associated with the plight of Negroes in the South, the rights of blacks were fought for.
There was a big challenge in changing the mindset among the blacks that contrary to common belief, they were not inferior to the whites. It was disappointing to see the blacks get comfortable under the oppression from the whites. Success in defeating the psychological brainwash began to be experienced in the 1960s when several youth groups in America began to join the Civil Rights Movement. A major defining moment was in March 1961 when the Tougaloo Nine managed to enter the municipal library’s main segregated branch. However, they were arrested, charged, and convicted of breach of peace. That was one of the main stages that set in motion Moody’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.
Moody’s destiny was shaped by a combination of events and character. The fact that she did not just accept authority for its own sake shows that she was wise beyond her years. She not only challenged her parents’ authority, but also that of the white establishment (Miller, 45). For instance, the livelihood of Moody’s mother was dependent on men and she always questioned why she would even become pregnant without first getting married.
Her personal characteristics and experiences of being socially insignificant in America formed her character. At 23 she had developed a mindset of not succumbing to discrimination, but fighting it through Civil Rights Movement. Through a strong belief in social justice, she was courageous enough to fight for it against all odds. Her organization and activism in the Civil Rights Movement was culminated in her desire to see her fellow Negroes live a better life free from mental and physical oppression. “Coming of Age in Mississippi” is used as a reference source in history, literature, and science courses. Out of the tens of thousands of social exposes, historical narratives, and memoirs, this is one of the few that are still widely taught today.
- Miller N., 1991. Getting Personal: Feminist Occasions and Other Autobiographical Acts. Routledge.
- Moody A., 1992. Coming of Age in Mississippi. Random House Publishing Group.
- Payne C.M., 2007. I've Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle. University of California Press.