“Coming of Age in Mississippi” Still Inspires and Humbles

Reading Anne Moody’s searing autobiography of her time growing up in Wilkinson County, Mississippi, I was struck again and again by her bravery. I’d read Coming of Age in Mississippi before, years ago, but felt drawn to it again recently, and found it just as powerful now as ever.

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Born in poverty and raised by a mother who worked multiple jobs to put food on the family table, Moody shares, in detail, just exactly what it was like growing up poor and black in rural Mississippi in the 1940s and 50s. She worked from an early age to help her siblings and mother, doing housework, yard work, babysitting, and odd jobs for the white families in their community. She explains vividly how, as a child, she grew to recognize but not fully understand the differences between her family and those she worked for. She captures this perplexity and this heartache perfectly.

Just as Moody was entering ninth grade in 1955, Emmett Till was murdered. He was 14 at the time, and so was she. At this point, everything changes. She remains a hard worker and a precocious student, but she’s now committed to fighting for justice and fairness. She finds she can’t be complacent, can’t just accept “things as they are.” It puts her at odds with her mother and many in her family, who fear for her life and theirs, too – a fear that is completely justified.

Moody would eventually attend Tougaloo College, where she was active in the civil rights movement. She participated in the famous Woolworth’s sit-in in downtown Jackson in 1963, where she and two other activists sat calmly for three hours at the lunch counter while an angry mob hit them, yelled at them, and poured ketchup, mustard, and sugar on them. She was resolute.

She saw and experienced more violence, from attacks on peaceful protests she participated in to threats while she was working to encourage black Mississippians to register to vote. Still, she didn’t cave. She didn’t run. She persevered. She recounts, in her book, the horror of hearing about both the murder of Medgar Evers in June 1963 and the Birmingham church bombing in September 1963. The latter happened on her 23rd birthday.

Reading this book places you right in the heart of the civil rights movement, with a remarkably strong woman as your guide. She was bold and outspoken and unafraid.

Moody died in February 2015 at age 74. Thankfully, though, her words, her courageous spirit, and her important legacy live on to inspire future generations.

(Originally published here: http://msbusiness.com/2015/08/book-biz-revisiting-the-life-story-of-a-civil-rights-pioneer/)

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